Thursday, February 07, 2013

Get Subban Off My #1 PP

Seems like a bit of a funny headline on a morning after Subban scores the only Habs goal on a PP. Hear me out.

This is not a new thought. It is something I have been harbouring for a good long time. That Markov and Subban together are not a good mix.

But Markov passed that puck to Subban for the goal you say? I say, precisely.

Precisely because you probably won't read that the other way around -- Subban passing to Markov for a goal that is. And I'd also say watch again. What one play made the hard won puck into a goal really? Was it the pass cradled and teed up for a second before a half slap shot that hit its blocking player. or was it the pass without hesitation (or need for a look) from one point to the other?

Obviously the goal went in. But where was the one-timer? Honestly, 9 times out of 10 that shot would be blocked or blasted off net. the lane was open for a clear shot with a goalie in movement, yet Subban was not ready for a pass.

OK, this is a harsh read, and I promised this was not about a single play (although it is a good illustration of my point).

In my honest opinion, Subban is just too slow (whether at thinking the play, or executing it) to play with Andrei Markov on the PP. At its best, our Markov-led PP sends the opposition sliding in two or three different directions before finding clear scoring attempts. So far this young season, those chances have been buried apace with the very PPs in the league.

Since Subban has returned, and the coaches kissed goodbye to the good thing they had going by putting him with Markov on the same unit, the production has slowed.

I'd say it's no accident. We all have vivid and recent memory of times without Markov in the lineup where any number of pairs of players languished on the PP when the good Habs really needed the help. More often than not, the less than elite attack was led from the back by Subban.

The clear difference between Markov and Subban on the PP is this. Subban uses his exceptional skill, poise and tools to wait and find the optimal shot to the net (often his own). He is patient and discerning, and can guard a puck like the best while he waits for a good opportunity. Markov processes all this before he gets the puck. Whether by practice, habit or pure innate instinct, he often has the pass he wants sorted with a one-touch motion.

But this argument isn't about showing Markov's current superiority as a PP conductor over Subban. That is plain to see for anyone who turns on a TV. The argument here is that Subban is actually a detriment to this execution.

My theory on this is simple also. Good PK teams tend not to leave the dangerous options open. They assess the players on the ice and do the math to put the probabilities as far as possible in their favour. More often than not, this means the points are loosely guarded. So in our scenario, Subban is open. Subban is the safest option for Markov's pass. Subban gets the puck, and Subban is a time sink (sure it's only a second we're talking about, but enough for a forward to make a dive into blocking position). The quick passing ends at Subban, not because he's incapable, but because the hockey he knows is holding and assessing options from a patient and confident position.

The contrast is Diaz. He has less of a shot than Subban, I'm sure. but for one reason or another often treats the puck like a hot potato, and because of all his practice doing this, actually finds players with those passes. His method, while weighed individually against Subban's may be inferior, and I would say that on Markov's retirement, the duty of PP-QB will pass to Subban and not Diaz. However, Diaz just syncs with Markov's vision and intention right now.

The point here isn't to belittle a player. The point is that the Canadiens have one of the most dangerous PP conductors I have ever had the pleasure to watch and they should darn well look for ways to take full advantage of that fact.

My first move would be to give him back the players he needs to conduct his greatest symphonies. Get Subban off his PP.

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