Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers can best be described as forgettable for the Montreal Canadiens. Scoreless on the power play and with ten players with a negative plus-minus, there wasn’t much for coach Michel Therrien to draw any positives from in the loss.
What sent ripples throughout the hockey world wasn’t that the suddenly red-hot Flyers had downed the up and down Canadiens, but instead Therrien’s decision to bench star defenseman P.K Subban for the better part of the third period. While Subban ended up playing 22 minutes and 24 seconds on the night, this represents 1:49 less than his season average of 25:13.
Montreal would have gained quite the boost by beating a surging Flyers team in Philadelphia, so the head coach’s decision to leave out his most valuable skater deserves all the scrutiny it has received so far.
Yet anyone who has followed the Canadiens since Therrien’s hiring knows that he has consistently preached a mentality of accountability. And when Subban took what could be politely described as an ill-advised roughing penalty after the second period buzzer had sounded, just moments after Tomas Plekanec had given the team some life with a shorthanded goal, this philosophy was clearly put to the test.
Therrien was every bit justified in benching the reigning Norris trophy winner, as Subban carelessly and selfishly put his team in a hole coming into the third period. A clear message was sent to the rest of the players that nobody, not even a superstar of Subban’s ilk, is above the concept of accountability. To paraphrase Habs’ color commentator Marc Denis from last night, some coaching decisions are made for short term gain, while some are made for long term growth. Subban’s benching clearly falls into the ladder.
Regardless of the clear logic behind Therrien’s decision, I still have to criticize the move because it may have cost Montreal two points in the standings in a very tightly contested Atlantic Division.
I get the accountability fluff that’s been fed to Montreal fans, but with a win last night, the Canadiens could be sitting in second place in the Atlantic, one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Instead, fans once again have to stomach the coach’s ego getting in the way of rationality. Yes, we understand that P.K might have been a little goofball at the end of the second, but isn’t that something that can be addressed after the game, or even between periods? Hell, sit him for one shift if you’re Michel Therrien, but don’t lessen your team’s chances at winning because you’re trying to prove some over-arching “theme” that could just as easily be taken care of off the ice.
To be fair to Montreal’s head coach, it’s hard to criticize the work he’s done so far behind the bench. Since being hired, he’s amassed a 54-29-10 record, while getting the team back into the playoffs after having finished dead last in the East. He did almost the same thing in Pittsburgh, bringing a moribund team back to respectability (eventually being replaced by Dan Bylsma…the rest is history). It looks like he’s good at doing this sort of thing, but that might also be his ceiling, and decisions like the one made on Wednesday evening are giving us a glimpse as to why that is.