By Lyle Richardson i
Regardless of the outcome of the Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens series, Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban has definitely arrived as an NHL superstar.
Prior to this year’s playoffs, Subban was considered a rising young talent, but not good enough to rank among the league’s elite. His critics believed his puck turnovers, cockiness and occasional trips into coach Michel Therrien’s doghouse hampered his development.
Even winning the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman last season wasn’t good enough for his critics, who dismissed it on the basis he won it during a lockout-shortened season. Of course, no one said that about Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin’s Hart Trophy win as league MVP or Chicago’s Jonathan Toews winning the Selke Trophy as top defensive player for the same season. One detects a possible whiff of racism from some critics of Subban, who’s among the league’s few black players.
In this year’s playoffs, however, Subban has won over most of his critics. With four goals and 12 points in nine games entering Game 6 of the Canadiens-Bruins series, Subban was not only the Habs leading scorer, but also among the playoffs’ top-five scorers. He also led all postseason scorers in power-play points with seven. With three straight multi-point games, he joined Larry Robinson and J.C. Tremblay as the only Canadiens defencemen to achieve that milestone.
He was also a standout in his own zone, using his size, speed and skills to break up plays and quickly move the puck out of danger. Prior to Game 6, he was tied for third on the Habs in hits (24) and was fifth in blocked shots (12).
Subban also earned praise with his mature reaction to racist taunts aimed at him on Twitter after scoring in overtime of Game 1 against the Bruins. By stating what was said on social media was in no way a reflection of the Bruins or the city of Boston, he earned the respect of even die-hard Bruins fans.
Without question, P.K. Subban is a superstar. He’s the most exciting player to suit up for the Canadiens since Guy Lafleur. Expect the Habs to pay top dollar when re-signing him this summer to a long-term contract.
Eyebrows in Leafs Nation shot skyward last week when the Toronto Maple Leafs announced they were not only retaining head coach Randy Carlyle, but also re-signed him to a two-year contract extension.
Given the Leafs’ stunning late-season collapse costing them a playoff berth, many observers (including yours truly) expected Carlyle would be fired. Instead, it was his assistants who got the axe.
Retaining Carlyle is an odd decision. During his tenure as Leafs coach they were among the worst puck-possession teams in the league. This season they gave up the most goals-against per game (35.9). If not for bursts of strong goaltending and the offence of Phil Kessel’s line, the Leafs never would have been in playoff contention. That kind of performance usually costs a head coach his job.
Carlyle still remains puzzled over the Leafs failure to make the playoffs. During the media teleconference announcing his re-signing, he repeatedly used the term “mind-boggling” to describe their collapse. Hopefully his new assistants (whoever they are) can help him figure it out before next season.
After taking a 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins promptly dropped the next two games, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 tonight in Pittsburgh.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Penguins have consistently come up short in the postseason. If they blow this series they could face some significant off-season changes.
Coach Dan Bylsma would be the biggest casualty. While earning plaudits for stepping in midway through the 2008-09 season to coach the Penguins to the Cup, the club’s subsequent playoff disappointments have eroded his reputation as an elite NHL coach.
Team captain Sidney Crosby won’t be among the casualties, but there’s definitely something wrong with his performance this spring. Though he won
this season’s scoring title and is a favourite to win
the Hart Trophy as league MVP, Crosby has managed only one goal in the playoffs and only 10 over the last 41 games.
Despite being hampered by injuries in recent years, Crosby has a well-earned reputations as a proven playoff performer, with 41 goals and 114 points in 94 post-season games. He’s apparently healthy this spring and is currently tied for second on the Penguins with nine points. He’s been solid in other aspects of the game. Still, it’s odd to see Crosby struggling to find the back of the net.
For the Penguins to defeat the Rangers and advance to the Eastern Conference final, Byslma must find a way to motivate his roster, while Crosby must step up and lead the way.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer
with The Hockey News and runs
the website Spector’s Hockey. His
column will appear in The Guardian
throughout the NHL hockey season.