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Montreal Canadiens’ coach wrong to label P.K. Subban as scapegoat

Mike Harrington

P.K. Subban can’t get run out of Montreal. Not this way. It’s hard to believe the Habs haven’t cut bait with coach Michel Therrien yet, but they should do it now even though it may not give any sort of kick-start to a team that looks close to toast for a playoff run.

After yet another hard-to-stomach loss, Therrien threw Subban under the bus Wednesday in Colorado, saying it was the star defenseman’s fault the winning goal was scored in a 3-2 loss to the Avalanche. It was a plain laughable rant but it brought about chatter from Montreal that Subban’s name has actually come up in talks in advance of the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

“It was a selfish play that cost us the game,” Therrien said. “The team worked hard. We deserved a better result. It’s too bad an individual mistake cost us the game late in the game.”

Subban was working to elude Mikhail Grigorenko in the Colorado zone when he blew a tire and went down. Grigorenko alertly took off with the puck in the other direction but the Canadiens recovered and the play was a 3-on-3 situation in the Montreal zone. With Subban trailing, the Habs blew coverage – captain Max Pacioretty was among the guilty – and Jarome Iginla was left free to score the winning goal with 2:03 to play.

Subban didn’t play again.

“I was going up the wall and I crossed over and lost an edge,” said Subban, who went two straight games without a shot on goal. “If I was being pressured, I would have rimmed the puck and got it in deep. But I don’t think he touched me.”

Therrien doubled down on his thoughts after practice Friday, saying he wasn’t singling out Subban.

“It would’ve been any guy − I’m going to repeat myself − in that situation, that time of the game,” he said. “We would’ve mentioned that that was not the right play to do. It’s not because it was P.K. I want you to trust me on this because we want our players to learn and we want them to be better.”

For his part, Subban said it was simply a fluke.

“I’ve probably made that play 1,000 times this season, and other times it’s resulted with the puck in the back of the other team’s net,” he said.

Subban then went on to say star players have to be willing to accept the spotlight in big moments, whether they succeed or fail.

“The best players in this game, they play on the edge of where they try to make those plays and that’s why they get paid a lot of money,” Subban said. “When I look at the best players – you know, Kobe Bryant has missed a ton of game-winning shots but he’s made a ton as well – I think as a player, that’s my focus. Those are the types of people and athletes I look up to.”

Players tired of Therrien in Pittsburgh in 2009 before he was fired in February and Dan Bylsma was brought up from the minors to win a Stanley Cup. That’s not going to happen in Montreal but the Habs’ lack of response in the wake of Carey Price’s injury is astonishing. No team in the history of the NHL has gone from the top of the league through 25 games to the worst record over the next two months and potentially to a non-playoff finish.

Subban is the Habs’ brightest star, the kind of flashy puck-mover on the blueline teams covet. He’s 26, a community icon with his $10 million donation to the children’s hospital in Montreal. Therrien was fired in his fourth year in Pittsburgh and this is year four of his second stint in Montreal. The players in Montreal need a new voice.

They don’t need their star foolishly embarrassed in public. And they certainly don’t need to trade him.

Props to The Commish

Gary Bettman got one right.

Yes, I recoiled as much writing that sentence as you probably did reading it. But Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman did the crime and he should do the time, all 20 games worth for his plummeting of linesman Don Henderson.

What came out of Bettman’s 23-page review of Wideman’s hearing last week was mostly a lack of accountability on the part of the veteran, a twisted web of blame placed on concussion syndrome. Then came the smoking gun, in the form of a text from Wideman to an unnamed teamate: “(t)he only problem and the only reason I’m here is cause the stupid refs and stupid media.”

Seriously? For the record, none of the game officials that night called a penalty on the play. And what the media has to do with any of this is clearly hard to figure.

Flames President Brian Burke is upset at the slow pace of the appeals process, pointing out that between the Bettman hearing and the case now heading to an independent arbitrator that Wideman is missing out games he could be playing in. I get that. In baseball, you keep playing until your appeal is heard. Maybe that’s something the NHL needs to look at. Maybe that would get the NHL process moving faster.

The folks in Calgary should zip it. Forget about Bettman commuting Wideman’s sentence. They’re lucky he didn’t make it longer.

Big fail by Commish

Bettman told this corner twice last year − once in Buffalo and once during a January stop in Vancouver − he could not conceive any of his teams would ever tank and they were all trying for the playoffs. We know how the Sabres’ season played out. And then there’s what Arizona GM Don Maloney told Sports Illustrated last week during a discussion of the underrated nature of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

“It’s really reflective of our team. Last year, we plunged. I did not do much to help our team the last two months,” Maloney said. “If we were going to be bad, my attitude was, ‘Let’s be real bad.’ There was a pretty big prize for being really bad. All that being said, it was a miserable six weeks for every player, including Oliver and anyone who had to go out there because our chances of winning were so slim. We basically had a minor-league roster.”

Just shameful. The league refuses to admit it, but it should have changed the draft lottery rules in advance of last year and not in the wake of it. It didn’t and it got that you-win/no-you-win game between the Sabres and Coyotes in March and fans rooting against their team. But yep, losing is winning.

More trade talk

• It’s pretty widely known that Sabres GM Tim Murray is trading Jamie McGinn ahead of the Feb. 29 deadline if he can get a second-round pick for him. That appears to be the currency ceiling for rental players now that teams are coveting No. 1 choices more than ever in the cap era. The days of mediocrities like Paul Gaustad going for a first-rounder seem over.

It would probably be hard to argue against getting a second-rounder for McGinn, on the theory you can go back to him on July 1 or simply get someone else. But at a time when the team is sorely lacking for veterans to compliment their young core, the Sabres can no longer be dumping productive NHL players for third- or fourth-round picks.

• Now that Dustin Byfuglien has signed in Winnipeg, it remains to be seen what the Jets will do about captain Andrew Ladd. He seems to be a good fit to return to Chicago, or to head to Florida and get reunited with GM Dale Tallon from their Blackhawks days.

• The chatter is growing about the Hawks also being a fit for Coyotes winger Mikkel Boedker, who might want a big-money deal come the summer but could be a good rental in the same way Antoine Vermette was for Chicago last year. Boedker is 26, the kind of young veteran Murray likes, but do you really give Stupid Season money to a guy yet to have a 20-goal season?

Around the boards

• Nothing is guaranteed at age 43 but Jaromir Jagr’s physical conditioning made this one a good bet. When he played his 45th game with the Panthers this season, it kicked in a $1.5 million bonus for the ageless one as part of the one-year, $3.5 million contract he signed with the team last spring.

• Two of the three opponents on the Sabres’ upcoming West Coast trip are super hot. The Anaheim Ducks, who greet the Sabres on Wednesday in Honda Center, are 18-5-3 since suffering their 3-0 loss in First Niagara Center on Dec. 17 − and 11-1-1 in their last 13 heading into today’s game against Calgary. The San Jose Sharks, who host Buffalo on Friday in SAP Center, are on a 13-2-3 run heading into Friday’s game at Carolina.

The Sabres have been good against the West this year, however. Buffalo is 9-9-3 overall against out-of-conference foes and 5-3-1 against the Pacific Division. That includes wins over the Ducks and Kings in Buffalo and an overtime loss here to the Sharks.

• When the point streak by Flyers rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere hit 13 games, it became the longest by any blueliner since Brian Leetch had a 13-gamer for the Rangers in 1996. But it’s crystallized two other points: The former Union College star is clearly in the race to be a Calder Trophy finalist and to be named to Team North America for this fall’s World Cup of Hockey. A lot of people predicted big things for Artemi Panarin, Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid and Dylan Larkin. Gostisbehere started the season in the minors. Pretty amazing stuff.


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