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Flyers captain Mike Richards last month surmised that P.K. stands for Punk Kid. For three games—all Canadiens victories, incidentally—P.K. stood for Parked Keester.
Actually P.K. stands for Pernell Karl. When he was born, his mother, Maria, thumbing through a movie magazine in her hospital bed, spotted a story about actor Pernell Roberts. The name clicked. Pernell for Adam Cartwright from Bonanza. Karl for his father. P.K.
If you look at the Subbans's albums, P.K. is always in the middle of the photos, center ring in a family circus. Karl, who emigrated from Jamaica to Ontario at age 11, nudged his eldest son toward hockey even though he had played basketball at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. Karl would finish work as vice principal of a Toronto adult-education program and drive P.K. downtown to the outdoor rink at Nathan Phillips Square. They would do the family skate, then stay to play pond hockey. This was the snow-globe ambience the NHL tries to re-create in its outdoor games: Sticks were dropped at mid-ice, and the younger Subban often was given the honor of choosing sides. Free-form hockey would last until one, sometimes two in the morning. Then Karl and P.K. would stop for a slice of pizza on the way home.
P.K. didn't have to get up until 11:30 a.m. His half-day of kindergarten was in the afternoon.
Those frosty nights are encoded in Subban's hockey DNA. For now, though, he's an artist of the expressionist school who plays for a paint-by-numbers coach. The conservative Jacques Martin did not hesitate to banish Subban to the press box after a 15-game stretch in which he had one goal and two assists—glum numbers for a defenseman with generous power-play time—though he doesn't want to suppress Subban's passion so much as channel it. "There's no [other Canadien] who can take the puck from behind the net and carry it to the other blue line," says Shutt. "Subban'll make mistakes, but the guy who made the most mistakes was Bobby Orr, because he always had the puck. Subban'll have the puck."
In youth hockey, "P.K. was a phenom," says Oilers center Sam Gagner, a boyhood opponent with whom Subban still scrimmages in Toronto on summer Sunday nights. "He was the only kid who could shoot a slap shot and raise it. When you can raise it at 10, that's lethal."
Subban still has a formidable slapper, distinctive because of a high, John Dalyesque takeaway with a curlicue at the top. (A long stick accentuates Subban's backswing. Most players' sticks stretch from ice to chin; his rises to his nose.) Yet Subban occasionally passes up a simple shot for a spin-o-rama, which is often better optics than tactics. Since the 2004-05 lockout Montreal has led the NHL in power-play percentage twice and been second once, thanks to a series of heavy shooters from the point: Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit and Marc-André Bergeron. With the excitable Subban as a principal triggerman this season, the Canadiens lagged in the bottom third of the league until a recent surge.
While Subban's freelancing strained the bounds of team structure, a third-period power play on Dec. 1 snapped it. Late in the man-advantage against the Oilers, as Montreal tried to pad a 3--2 lead, Subban batted a clearing attempt out of the air with astonishing hand-eye coordination. Then, going from brash to rash, he banged his stick on the ice, demanding the puck. When it didn't come, he dived in a misguided effort to keep the puck instead of backing out and ceding the zone. Gagner wound up scoring on a two-on-one break to force overtime.
Midway through the extra period, a short pass from Subban handcuffed winger Michael Cammalleri. Subban drifted toward the boards instead of holding his inside position, and when Cammalleri fumbled the puck, Subban was effectively out of the play, offering Oilers winger Dustin Penner a clear lane to the game-winning breakaway.
Subban went from a team-high 25:08 minutes to zero the next night in New Jersey. Said one Canadiens official, "I don't think the guys were unhappy when Jacques scratched him."