Jacques Martin explains P.K. Subban’s absence in the Habs lineup

The trials and tribulations of Montreal’s newest favorite player, P.K. Subban, are causing a bit of a confusing stir for fans in Quebec. Subban is one of Montreal’s most popular players after arriving on the scene during last year’s playoffs. He’s youthful, he plays an exciting brand of hockey, he upsets opposing players so much they feel the need to mouth off to the press about it.

This is what makes head coach Jacques Martin’s decision to make Subban a healthy scratch the last three games tough for some Habs fans. They want to rage at Martin for sitting down their budding superstar but the “problem” they’ve got is that the Habs have won each game he’s sat out. In his place, Yannick Weber is getting a chance to start and he’s playing pretty well himself. Even in spite of that, some fans want to see Subban on the ice and for them, they might need to reflect back on how things broke down with Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak last year to see how Martin handles things with Weber and Subban. Dave Stubbs of The Montreal Gazette tells the story.

Martin loves this in-house battle, just as he enjoyed goalies Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price scrapping for action last season before Halak seized the No. 1 job.

His comparison of Weber-Subban to the goalies might be a little off-kilter; Halak was all-universe from the Olympics onward and not Price nor Ken Dryden nor Patrick Roy would have taken the job from him.

But still…

“It’s healthy to have competition and that’s what we have now,” Martin said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.

“(And) it’s important to keep in perspective that it’s a privilege to play at this level and there are lots of responsibilities attached to it,” he added, addressing Subban’s growth into the NHL.

“There’s nothing wrong when you’re not in the lineup. Last year was a very important year in Carey’s development. There was a process established that really helped him grow and made him a better player.

“With our younger players, whether a Weber or Subban or Lars Eller, they’ll be better for it in the long run.”

You can’t really argue with Martin’s final point as Carey Price has gone from being a potential bust in Montreal to the newest goaltending savior. Whether or not his lost battle with Halak for playing time last year and the lessons learned in taking things seriously to stick in the league played into that is debatable.

For now though, Martin’s cerebral work is being put to the test on Subban. Subban’s got a world of talent and the ability to be like another Dan Boyle on the blue line.  He’s fast, he’s got the offensive skills, he’s not afraid to play physically when needed. Having him compete with another young guy like Weber rather than a been-around-the-block veteran is what he needs to push himself to play better. Whether or not this dance continues all season long or not remains to be seen, but if nothing else, Habs fans are ready for a season-long duel. Team Yannick or Team P.K. anyone?

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    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.