Nashville Predators, P.K. Subban

P.K. Subban Peaking at the Right Time

P.K. Subban, the Nashville Predators’ enigmatic defenseman, is peaking at the right time with five points in his last three games. It couldn’t come at a better time as the team seeks to play their best hockey when the postseason arrives. And for a team like the Predators that generates a large portion of its offense from the blue line, a healthy and productive Subban is a welcomed sight. That’s especially true considering his 2018-19 hasn’t gone as planned.

Subban’s 2018-19 Season

Subban started the season off great with 11 points in his first 15 games and averaged 23:33 per game. He had two points in three of those first 15 games. The Predators had a 12-3-0 record to start the season and a plus-five goal differential in all situations with him on the ice. But then he went down with an upper-body injury on Nov. 13 against the San Jose Sharks after playing just over seven minutes. He landed on injured reserve and missed the next 19 games and the Predators went 9-9-1 in his absence.

P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
P.K. Subban had a great start to the season, but an injury kept him out of the lineup for 19 games. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

When Subban returned to the ice, he was a different player. From when he was activated off injured reserve on Dec. 27, he had just five goals and 13 points in his next 40 games. He was a minus-nine, had only two multi-point games and took a penalty in 15 games, accumulating 48 penalty minutes. He averaged 22:41 per game during the stretch and the Predators went 21-15-4 in those games and had a minus-five goal differential with him deployed. But his struggles disappeared in the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 29.

Subban Driving Predators’ Play

In that game, Subban had a goal and an assist, including a power-play helper, in the Predators’ 3-1 win. On his goal, he ripped a slap shot from the left point after Craig Smith passed the puck from the opposite point that ricocheted off the boards. Subban took the rebounding puck in stride and unleashed his shot past Matt Murray as Ryan Johansen provided a screen. His second point occurred when he assisted on a Viktor Arvidsson power-play goal. Subban received an Arvidsson pass at the point, drawing penalty killers to him. He passed the puck back to Arvidsson, who skated in and rifled a shot past Murray.

The next night, the Predators hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets. Subban assisted on a Filip Forsberg goal in the game. The play started with the puck on Forsberg’s stick down low in the offensive zone. He passed it out to Subban at the point, who faked a slap shot, allowing a shooting lane to open. He followed that up with a slap shot that was blockered away by Sergei Bobrovsky and the rebound came out to Forsberg, who put it in the back of the net.

Finally, on April 2, the Predators were on the road to face the Buffalo Sabres. Subban had another two points, a goal and an assist, in the game. His first point was an assist on Smith’s game-opening goal. With the Predators in the offensive zone, the puck leaked out to Subban. Although he had the time to take a slap shot, he corralled the puck and put a wrist shot on net. The puck deflected off Smith and into the Sabres net. After a review to check for a high stick, the goal stood. But for as good of a play as his assist was, it doesn’t compare to his goal.

Related: Seven Things About P.K. Subban

The play started with Subban defending at the blue line as Sabres defenseman, and 2018 first-overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin attempted to enter the offensive zone. With Subban aggressively pressuring, Dahlin looked to dish the puck to a forward to gain zone entry. Although the pass was in the air, Subban batted it down, gained possession and went on a breakaway into the Sabres zone.

Recognizing that a defender was converging on the opposite side and no passing lane was available, he blasted a slap shot in stride and beat Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton blocker-side. It was a play that fired he and his teammates up as Subban displayed everything that makes him one of the league’s best defensemen.

As I mentioned in the intro, Subban posted three points in the past five games. He averaged 21:44 per game, was a plus-three and accumulated four penalty minutes. The Predators went 2-1-0 in the games and they had a plus-four goal differential with him on the ice. Meanwhile, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis had goal differentials of minus-three and minus-five, respectively, in the same three games. It’s clear Subban’s playing some of his best hockey of the season, and it’s positively impacting the team.

Still Room for Improvement

But just because Subban has played better in recent games doesn’t mean he’s playing perfect hockey each game. He still struggles with consistency and needs to work on that, especially with the postseason arriving. Some games he looks lost, struggling to keep up in the defensive zone, which results in lazy stick infractions and holding penalties, and making the wrong reads in the offensive zone. But in other games he shows why he won the 2013 Norris Trophy, defending aggressively while maintaining position, leading rushes through the neutral zone and creating scoring chances.

He displayed the latter in his past three games, but even in those games some inconsistency remained. Against the Penguins, the Predators had a 38.1 percent shot share with Subban on the ice. That stat improved in the two games that followed – 52.6 percent against the Blue Jackets and 70.8 percent versus the Sabres.

Pekka Rinne, P.K. Subban, Jake Guentzel
P.K. Subban has been playing better in recent games, but needs to be more consistent.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The Predators’ offense goes through the blue line, and Subban is a major part of that. If Subban can find consistency and continue his recent run of hot play, the Predators have a real shot to make a deep postseason run. His performance means only good things, and it’s something the team and its fanbase has been waiting for all season. It’s finally arrived, and the timing couldn’t be better.

*All stats come from Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick

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