This is Michel Therrien, at his wit’s end.
With his team down a goal to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, the coach of the Montreal Canadiens decided to park the player who was most likely to create the equalizer, P.K. Subban, on the bench for the final two minutes of play.
Therrien had concluded that Subban was at fault on the play that led to Colorado’s go-ahead goal. And he might have been right, to some extent anyway.
Moments before Jarome Iginla gave the Avs a 3–2 lead, Subban turned over the puck in the offensive zone. It was on an aggressive play, but not an overly risky one. In fact, it was the sort of take-charge decision that his team needed from him at that moment. The kind you expect from an elite player.
Most times, Subban executes the play flawlessly. This time, he didn’t. As he was shifting the puck from his forehand to his backhand, he lost it and then a skate edge, taking himself out of the play as the Avs raced the other way.
And so Subban sat and watched as clock ran out and the Canadiens dropped their third straight game.
But Therrien wasn’t done with Subban yet. There was a bus parked outside and he was determined to throw him under it.
“We played a solid game ... and it’s disappointing that we lost because of an individual mistake,” he said. “As a coach, I thought he could’ve had a better decision at the blue line. He moved the puck behind and he put himself in a tough position.
“Unfortunately, at the end of the game, when we don’t play as a team, we could be in trouble and this is what happened.”
Given this long losing skid—the Habs have dropped 23 of their last 31 now—Therrien's frustration is understandable. And no one is suggesting that Subban is beyond reproach. Talking to him privately about his situational awareness would have been perfectly reasonable.
But pointing fingers in the direction of an athlete who had the courage to go for the win illustrates how completely Therrien has lost control of this thing.
If he needed a scapegoat, there was a better choice to be made. Captain Max Pacioretty blew his check on the winning goal, allowing Mikhail Grigorenko a free lane to the side of the net and ample time to feed Iginla for the tap-in out front. It’s the sort of indifferent play that has crept into Pacioretty’s game over and over this season without repercussion.
But Subban loses an edge and he gets thrown to the wolves.
After the game the hashtag #FireTherrien was trending across Canada and you have to wonder if that moment is coming. Dismissing him at this point would do nothing to salvage this season—six points and four teams removed from a wild card spot, the Canadiens are all but finished. But it might help preserve the team’s relationship with its marquee player.
Subban is a textbook high-risk/high-reward player. Moments like this one are going to happen and sometimes they’re going to hurt. But the positives in his game—the creativity, the courage, the consistent production—far outweigh the occasional faux pas.
If Therrien doesn't appreciate that, maybe it is time for him to go before he does any more damage.
The numbers game
• On Wednesday night against the Rangers, Artemi Panarin became the first Blackhawks rookie to score a hat trick since Tyler Arnason on Dec. 28, 2002 vs. San Jose. Panarin leads all NHL rookies in goals (22), assists (35), points (57) and game-winning tallies (6).
• Colorado’s Jarome Iginla is within two goals of tying Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli for 17th place on the NHL's all time list (608). On Wednesday, Iginla tied Canadiens great Guy Lafleur with his 97th game-winning tally, passed Teemu Selanne into 22nd on the games-played chart (1,452), had his 108th career multi-goal game, which ranks second among active players behind Florida’s Jaromir Jagr (125).
• Minnesota's Zach Parise picked up his 600th NHL point, becoming the fifth member of the 2003 NHL draft class to reach the milestone. The others: Carolina’s Eric Staal (772), Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf (722) and Corey Perry (643), and Wild teammate Thomas Vanek (641).
• Keith Olbermann offers his take on why hockey hasn’t grown in the United States like other sports.
• Is this pending free agent the missing piece that could power the New York Rangers on to another Stanley Cup run?
• The Buffalo Sabres are set to lead the NHL in this one very important category.
• An injury to a veteran blueliner has the Tampa Bay Lightning scrambling to find answers on defense.
• Gary Lawless isn’t buying Evander Kane's soap opera apology.
• Former goaltender Corey Hirsch explains how goalie equipment can be shrunk to expose more net to shooters while remaining protective.
• With his son now representing Team USA in Lillehammer, former Team Canada forward Brian Savage looks back on the unforgettable gold medal game at the 1994 Olympics.
• NHL All-Star MVP John Scott scored his first goal as a member of the St. John’s Ice Caps Wednesday night. It went exactly as you’d imagine it would.