HabsWorld.net -- 

Without question P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov have become Montreal’s best defensive pairing since being united earlier this season. They’re among the team’s top five scorers on the team, but their production has slowed as of late (in last 9 games played: Subban 2A; Markov 1G, 1A). Emelin’s return to the lineup was supposed to shore up the top six, but he’s struggled to regain his form lately and arguably regressed.

Down 1-0 to the Phoenix Coyotes after 40 minutes on Tuesday, Michael Therrien split Subban and Markov, pairing them instead with defensive defensemen Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin respectively. The Canadiens scored three unanswered goals—including and empty-netter—to win the game. So the split carried over into the team’s match against the St. Louis Blues last night. Facing a far superior club in the Blues, the success wasn’t duplicated as Montreal would drop the contest 5-1.

With only four period of hockey to sample, it may be too early to dub the experiment a failure. Having a puck-moving defenseman on each of the Habs pairings (Subban, Markov, Diaz) will help the team’s transition game. Distributing them throughout the pairings ensures there is at least one guy capable of moving the puck to the forwards with ease and precision.

I posed the following question to the HabsWorld community on the Forums. A trio of our writers also chirped in with their thoughts:

Is splitting up Subban and Markov the right move?

Answers from HW’s writers:

Alexander Letourneau: Shuffling offensive lines and defensive pairings is part of the game and can payoff in certain situations. Breaking up the stud defensive pairing of Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban to make in-game tweaks every once in a while is fine by me. On a long-term basis, it would be a mistake. You want your stud defensemen playing together. Both are defensively capable and offensively gifted. They complement each other on the ice and offer that game-changing dimension needed to swing momentum. There’s chemistry there and outside of an in-game situation where another pairing is being outplayed, or struggling, then I understand. It hasn’t happened often enough this year to ring the alarm bells, in my opinion. I figure it goes without saying that breaking them up on the first power play unit would border insanity.

Kevin Meldrum: I would say since Markov/Emelin have worked well as D partners last year and for the most part were a successful combination until Emelin was injured it would not affect the team that much. My only issue is Josh Gorges is not a top 4 defenseman but Montreal uses him that way regardless if P.K./Markov are together. That being said P.K has the ability to make average players better with his immense skill. So no I do not see a problem with breaking them up. They still will be the first pairing on the PP.

Norm Szcyrek: As a regular ice time pairing, the two have played very well together for most of the season. Breaking them up is a similar question to breaking up a hot forward line [eg. Eller-Gallagher-Galchenyuk at the start of this season]. Should a coach break up an effective pairing to help out another area? With Markov, there’s a good argument about pairing him with Emelin, since the two players formed a strong duo last season before Emelin’s injury. Making this move to split up Markov and Subban would be a simple decision if a good fit for Subban could be found. Gorges has been his latest partner, and the two played well together as regular partners in the Phoenix game. I would lean towards breaking up the S.&M. pair for now, and reuniting them for the power play, or late in the game when the team is behind in the score.

Responses from the HW community:

Fanpuck33: I would agree that D is not the problem right now, but I’ve been hoping for a Markov-Subban split up ever since I heard that Markov was averaging career high ice time this season. We all saw how he faded last season, albeit returning from injury. Still, he’s not getting any younger and with this being an Olympic year, it’s going to be an extra-long season. They need to stay together on the PP as they are lethal together. At even strength, however, I’d like to see Markov-Emelin and Gorges-Subban make a reappearance. Those combinations were great last season and would help Markov’s legs over the course of the season with Gorges-Subban getting the top minutes.

Link67: Absolutely not in my opinion. Georges and Emelin are struggling a little at the same time right now, which is making it look like more of a panic situation than it is. But the fact is both are capable, and will get out of this funk, regain confidence and start making the right decisions instinctively again. Once that happens, it won’t look like they need Markov or Subban’s help, and we can leave this dynamic duo intact.

Lovett’s Magnatones: Ok, enough is enough. Andrei Markov is a below average number one defenseman, and a number two defenseman on any team that’s a Cup contender. I’ve had enough of his canonization. He’s a power play specialist, and if anything, his injuries have done nothing but hold us back, and if we traded him in his prime we would have been better off. Our Norris trophy winner is learning the Euro Way-stick checks, avoiding hits, in regards to dishing them out and taking them and waiting around for powerplays. Put Markov with Gorges or Emelin, and we’ll see who’s to thank for this new “Defensive Markov.”

The Chicoutimi Cucumber: I think it’s worth a try. It’s not as though Subban has been reliant on Markov’s mentorship prior to this season. Both are big boys accustomed to playing without each other. Give it a go, and if it’s a disaster, reunite them. But my guess is that whoever PK is playing with will suddenly start to look better – and ditto for #79.

What do you think? Is splitting up Subban and Markov the right call? Or should Therrien keep them together? Join the discussion on the HW Forums!

And what’s my take on the situation? Well, while I may change my mind after a few more games, I’ll let The Offspring help me out with my current answer: