The mystifying (mis)usage of P.K. Subban by Michel Therrien

Joel Auerbach

Tuesday night's matchup was a microcosm of the entire 2013-14 season for the Canadiens. Poor coaching, bad defense, Price saving their bacon, and Subban being underused.

Let's get a few things straight before we get into it. The "Poor P.K." stuff is crap. Subban doesn't sit around feeling sorry for himself, so neither should you. The "P.K. might not sign here" stuff is crap. He's a restricted free agent that loves playing here, and if he isn't signed by July 1st the Canadiens will file for team elected arbitration, which makes offer sheets impossible. Subban will be in Montreal for a long time, so stop worrying about it*.

*Scary correction: Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada informs me that even if a team files for arbitration, a player can still sign an offer sheet until July 5th at 5:00pm. Not great news for Montreal. Even though they would match any offer, not being able to control the structure of the deal is a real risk.

What you should worry about though, is whether or not this current incarnation of the Canadiens can win anything at all.

Michel Therrien is possibly the most confusing coach in the entire NHL. He can correctly identify things like Tomas Plekanec being a fantastic shut down player, or that Murray needs to be sheltered heavily in order to not consistently be the straw that breaks the Habs' back, or that David Desharnais can not succeed without two play driving wingers. Yet, knowing that Murray is terrible, he continually goes back to him. Even worse, he often sits a Norris winning defenseman on the bench in favour of him.

Tuesday's matchup against the Lightning was just one game, but it was a microcosm of the entire season.

Not counting games where Subban was ejected, or returning to the lineup after missing training camp, the 17:48 he played last night in a game that was a preview for an upcoming playoffs series was his lowest ice time since January 25, 2012 under Randy Cunneyworth. Before that, you have to go back to his rookie season, on December 19th, 2010.

So what on earth happened here? Why would Michel Therrien manage his bench in this way?

"It's because the Habs were shorthanded so much, Subban doesn't play on the PK"

Wrong.

I saw this excuse being paraded about constantly on Tuesday night. Instead of just throwing stuff at the wall, try looking things up.

Habs defensemen even strength ice time vs Tampa Bay
Player Ice time
Alexei Emelin 15.8
Andrei Markov 15.6
Mike Weaver 14.1
Douglas Murray 11.9
Francis Bouillon 11.7
P.K. Subban 9.8

Yes, Subban was the least used Canadiens defenseman at even strength against the Lightning. Two minutes fewer than Murray and Bouillon, and he played just 9.8 of 39.3 total even strength minutes. That's not a strategy to win games.

"Maybe Subban played bad and Therrien was going with what was working?"

Nope.

Saw this a lot on Tuesday night as well, blatantly false. Subban was credited with a single turnover, which happened in the final minute behind his own net, so there's no excuse there. In the following table SAF% = shot attempts (Corsi) for %, USAF% = unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) for %, and SF% = shots for %, and w/o = without.

Habs defensemen shot differentials vs Tampa Bay
Player SAF% SAF% w/o SAF% diff USAF% USAF% w/o USAF% diff SF% SF% w/o SF% diff
P.K. Subban 66.7 42.9
+23.8
70.0 48.0
+22.0
62.5 50.0
+12.5
Andrei Markov 48.6 45.0
+3.6
55.2 48.4
+6.8
57.1 57.8
+9.3
Douglas Murray 47.8 46.1
+1.7
45.0 55.0
-10.0
46.2 54.9
-8.7
Francis Bouillon 44.4 47.3
-2.9
58.3 50.0
+8.3
50.0 52.9
-2.9
Mike Weaver 42.9 49.0
-6.1
43.5 56.8
-13.3
46.7 55.2
-8.5
Alexei Emelin 41.7 51.3
-9.6
50.0 53.1
-3.1
50.0 54.5
-4.5

Oh would you look at that! Turns out that while Subban was on the ice, the Canadiens were absurdly effective, and while he wasn't, they were awful.

To put this in greater context, while Subban was on the ice, the Canadiens were giving up 24.49 shot attempts per 60 minutes. While he was off the ice, they were giving up 73.2 shot attempts per 60.

That's astonishing on it's own, but doesn't even have the context of how the players were deployed.

Habs defensemen zonal deployment vs Tampa Bay
Player Offensive zone starts Defensive zone starts Offensive zone start%
P.K. Subban 3 11 21.4
Andrei Markov 4 7 36.4
Douglas Murray 3 4 42.9
Francis Bouillon 4 12 25.0
Mike Weaver 4 4 50.0
Alexei Emelin 4 8 33.3

The Canadiens had 23 even strength faceoffs in the defensive zone against Tampa Bay, and Subban was used for eleven of them. Eleven defensive zone starts in 9.8 minutes of time on ice, and yet when he was on the ice, the Canadiens were conceding one third of the shot attempts against that they were when he was off of it.

The fact is, Subban was absolutely incredible against the Lightning, and instead of riding that and looking for a spark to win the game, Michel Therrien indirectly called him out to the press, saying that the team was "too fancy" and "refused to chip the puck in".

That's right ladies and gentlemen, stop being good, dump and chase. That's the message from the coach of the Montreal Canadiens.

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