We've known now for some time that P.K.Subban is going to be a very, very good NHL defenceman; possibly even a superstar when he reaches the peak of his power. We saw flashes of what will be in last spring's playoffs when he matched Crosby move for move and scored his first NHL goal on the PP. Last night we saw more than flashes. We saw the budding of a future NHL force who's pulling together his many abilities and using them to harmoniously torture his opponent.
Last night he rang a booming slapper off the post on the PP, he threw a couple of crunching checks, single-handedly got back to break up odd man rushes...without taking a penalty...by using his tremendous speed, and racked up an assist on the game's opening goal. He was a game changer, and that was reflected in his second-star status. Knowing he's just 21 years old and already this good puts joy in the heart of every Habs fan.
Still, Subban didn't bring home the win by himself, as good as he is. (Although I expect there will be a day when that happens.) He had lots of help in a team effort that's becoming the theme of this early season.
Among the highlights, the Tomas Plekanec line continues to produce by using tremendous speed and slick passing to befuddle opposing defences. Lars Eller is improving and making smart decisions every time he's on the ice. Jeff Halpern is a defensive asset with a little bit of offence. Brian Gionta is working hard and will soon start scoring more often. Roman Hamrlik and Alex Picard are playing solid, mostly mistake-free defence. Josh Gorges is one of the smartest, most reliable guys on the team.
This is a different team than the one we saw start last season because it's actually a team. The inconsistency we used to see from period to period seems to be a thing of the past. Remember how they'd come out flat last year and then have to spend half the game clawing back from a deficit? Or how they'd have a great first, then give up 20 shots and three goals in the second? Now we're seeing consistent speed and effort in all three periods.
Shots against, a real indicator of team play, are under thirty most of the time. Consistency of effort is also leading to more shots on the opposing goalie. We're not seeing the defence struggle for minutes at a time trying to get out of their own zone like we did so many times last season, and that should get even better when Andrei Markov returns this weekend.
Speaking of Markov, that's another sign the team is now working together in a much better way than it did last year. The team went 14-20-3 without Markov last season. Compare that with this year's 6-2-1, and the difference is notable. Once, it would have been unthinkable for the Canadiens to win without Markov, and his loss would have been a harbinger of a very long summer ahead. Now the defence finds a way to pull together and patch that all-star-shaped hole in the lineup.
P.K. Subban is certainly helping with that patch job. We're only nine games into the season, but he and his teammates are giving us reason to think the next 73 are going to be a whole lot of fun to watch.