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P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre on February 2, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Canadiens defeated the Panthers 3-2.

Richard Wolowicz/2011 Getty Images

The relationship between callow rookie and grizzled NHL vet is succinctly summarized: One barks out the orders, the other carries them out, usually after apologizing.

So when 21-year-old defenceman P.K. Subban absentmindedly flipped his practice jersey onto the floor of the Montreal Canadiens dressing room on Tuesday - a no-no - 35-year-old Hal Gill, who was standing nearby, interrupted an interview with a reporter to remonstrate.

"You're a [expletive]idiot," he growled, telling Subban to show a little more respect for the crest.

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"Sorry, Hal," a sheepish Subban said.

"Yeah, well, sorry doesn't mow the lawn," Gill retorted.

It's like that between this mentor and his irrepressible acolyte - don't just mumble an apology, do something to sort it out.

"Hal will tell me something like, 'P.K., when you get the puck dump it behind the net,' and I'll say, 'Okay, sorry Hal.' He always says, 'Sorry doesn't mow the lawn,' " Subban, who considers Gill a dressing-room father-figure, said with a laugh.

The interplay provides a telling glimpse of the typical repartee within the Habs dressing room - playful, caustic, but not devoid of purpose.

"And no one," as veteran centre Scott Gomez said recently, "is off-limits."

It's a truism that the teams who laugh together usually do so because they're winning together, but in the case of the Canadiens, who travel to Boston on Wednesday with a chance to pull into a first-place tie with Bruins in the Northeast Division, the vibe seems more than just circumstantial.

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It's no coincidence the Habs mark a pair of anniversaries this week that are significant for different, but related reasons.

Monday was the close of Pierre Gauthier's first year as general manager; Saturday is the first anniversary of Subban's NHL baptism (he played two regular-season games last year).

Though Gauthier can fairly be described as the executor of predecessor Bob Gainey's grand team-chemistry experiment - the Habs jettisoned 10 free agents in the summer of 2009, and have since traded away or released five more players from the 2008-09 squad - he has put his own stamp on the club.

There was the seemingly audacious trade of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak last summer (Carey Price has since proven it was the right decision), the key off-season signing of top centre Tomas Plekanec to a long-term deal, the acquisition of veterans such as Jeff Halpern and Alexandre Picard, and an astute move to snap up defenceman James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders when rock-steady blueliner Josh Gorges went down to a knee injury in December.

But the Gauthier plan is also predicated on subtleties: Getting a head-start on the trade market (i.e. Wisniewski and last year's acquisition the since-departed Dominic Moore the day Subban was called up) and prizing off-ice intangibles like character and leadership when rooting out supporting players.

The real measure of Gill's importance is only tangentially related to what he does on the ice, other vets like Halpern and back-up goaltender Alex Auld are of a piece with that way of thinking.

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And the atmosphere has been conducive to helping the youngsters along.

Over the last 10 or 12 games, Subban's game has taken off, and he can safely be called the team's best blueliner.

Much of that is down to talent and work, but he is also one of five rookies in this team to fall under the tutelage of battle-tested players like Gill, Gomez, captain Brian Gionta and defenceman/comedian Jaroslav Spacek.

Though forwards Lars Eller, acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the Halak trade, and David Desharnais are still finding their feet in the NHL, defenceman Yannick Weber and most especially winger Max Pacioretty and Subban, are blooming.

With the New York Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers dropping points left and right in the Eastern Conference, there is a quiet hope Montreal won't have to scramble into the playoffs as it did in each of the past two years.

A win over arch-rival Boston - the Habs have won all three meetings so far and eight of the last nine tilts between the two - would be a nice added boost.

Head coach Jacques Martin conceded as much on Tuesday, calling the game "a huge, huge contest for us."

Wisniewski should return after missing a pair of weekend games with strep throat. ("I get it twice a year, and have pretty much all my life, usually I can catch it before it flares up, but this time I waited a day too long.")

His fearsome shot should help invigorate a power play that's in an 0-for-22 drought, although winger Michael Cammalleri, another key performer with the man-advantage, is still a ways off from returning from a shoulder injury.

Martin said he expects Cammalleri - another of the incoming class of 2009 - to start practising again this weekend.

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