Exactly one hour after the Montreal Canadiens won their third consecutive game—this one a 4-2 win over one of their fiercest rivals—the Tampa Bay Lightning—defenceman P.K. Subban emerged in a three-piece suit, a purple and wine-coloured mink coat and a grey fedora.
Styling, loud and boisterous, personality oozing, he was carrying a stick to give away to a group of kids that were just hanging around.
Their faces lit up as soon as he appeared from beyond the curtain that separates them from the players’ only area on the main level of the Bell Centre.
“Hi guys,” he bellowed before staying to chat with them for four or five minutes.
Just as he is on the ice, Subban is larger than life off of it.
“P.K. has a big personality, everyone knows that about him,” said Canadiens goaltender Ben Scrivens 30 minutes earlier. “He’s always genuine. He’s a good guy, which is what I base my opinions on.”
There’s plenty of evidence to support the claim. A $10-million commitment over the next seven years made to the Montreal’s Children’s Hospital comes to mind.
Subban’s dedication is noteworthy, too.
He wasn’t in the dressing room after the game to talk about the heavy lifting he did in playing 29:13 against a Lightning team that rode into Tuesday’s game on the NHL’s biggest high—having won eight of its last 10 games. He was in the gym, completing a 45-minute workout he later described as “intense.”
About his game, Subban had picked up an assist on the winning goal, which he banked off teammate Devante Smith-Pelly in the dying seconds of the middle period. With it, he extended his point streak to seven games—a mark he hadn’t yet hit in any other season over an illustrious career, one that’s already seen him awarded the Norris Trophy.
That Subban had done something he had never done before was news to him. He was far more interested in talking about keeping childhood friend and elite scorer Steven Stamkos off the score sheet and limiting him to just one shot on net when we finally caught up to him.
Two games prior, he held Edmonton’s phenom, Connor McDavid, to zero shots on goal.
“I take a lot of pride in being a defenceman that’s expected to do everything,” said Subban. “I’m not just expected to generate offence, but obviously to play against the top lines, to play on the penalty kill.
“There’s only a handful of guys like that in the league.”
That Subban would categorize himself as unique certainly fits.
Only Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov have collected more than Subban’s 38 assists this year. He’s also been on the ice for 90 of the 146 goals his team has scored. And Subban has managed 19 points in his last 18 games while the Canadiens have failed miserably to generate offence.
Perhaps the least publicized contribution Subban’s made is how much he’s put into lifting the spirits of his teammates who had understandably hit an emotional wall after losing 21 of 26 games prior to last weekend’s wins over Edmonton and Carolina.
“He brings a lot of energy to the room,” said Canadiens defenceman Mark Barberio. “It rubs off on the guys.”
“He’s a guy that younger guys look to,” said Smith-Pelly. “To see his attitude coming to the rink every day is something, I know myself, I look to, especially when times were kind of hard for us.
“He’s very emotional, and it definitely helps the team out a lot.”
Subban isn’t alone in helping the team on and off the ice.
Assistant captain Tomas Plekanec has caught fire over this three-game winning streak that has brought life back to the Canadiens, who are suddenly within four points of third place in the Atlantic Division. He recorded two goals and an assist in Tuesday’s win after a four-point performance against the Oilers last Saturday.
Scrivens has allowed just four goals on the last 98 shots he’s faced.
But Subban is likely to receive the third Norris nomination of career for his performance this season—if the Canadiens can redeem themselves and finish in a playoff spot. He might even pull it off, regardless.
“This is the time, from the second half, people always look at me and think I always get better in the second half,” said Subban. “That’s because the hockey gets tougher and the games get more important.
“For me, I always want to be at the top of my game when my team needs me to be, especially right now. We’re going to need some luck; we’re going to need some good hockey for us to make the post-season. I want to be at my best from here on in.”
All Subban has to do is be himself.