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Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, in action against New Jersey on April 3, has 35 points in 41 games since a mid-season low point.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With eight minutes, 53 seconds to go in the third period on Thursday, a loose puck fluttered up by the Detroit Red Wings bench and P.K. Subban slipped into trial lawyer mode.

Wings defenceman Brendan Smith had reached over the boards and casually batted the object away – he did this while conspicuously looking away.

After animated representations by counsel (an arm-waving Subban for the prosecution, various Wings for the defence), the officials held a short confab, agreed you can't do that in hockey and slapped Detroit with a bench minor.

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A player so scrutinized he may as well have an endorsement deal for microscopes – sixth-most minor penalties in the league this year, two diving fines – won an argument. With the refs. It's how you know someone has reached a state of grace.

"After about the fifth time of me telling them to look at the [scoreboard] replay they told me to shut up. So I kept my mouth shut after that. Mostly," he said afterward with a smile.

The call was a pivotal one. It provided the Montreal Canadiens with a five-on-three power play that illustrated all the glory and madness of Subban.

By now everyone is aware of Subban's majestic puck-handling ability and penchant for showmanship, but his first deed was to allow a simple pass to skip through his feet.

As he swooped back up ice, he inexplicably lost control of the puck, the Bell Centre issued a collective groan.

Moments later, he zipped a pass to Andrei Markov, whose feed to Tomas Plekanec was quickly deposited into the net. Normal service resumed, tie game.

It was the Toronto-born rearguard's 60th point of the season.

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Subban trails only Ottawa's Erik Karlsson in scoring among defencemen, and while the James Norris Memorial Trophy discussion will doubtless focus on Karlsson, Los Angeles's Drew Doughty and Nashville's Shea Weber, no defenceman in the NHL has put together a season quite like Subban's (Mark Giordano of Calgary may have, had he avoided injury).

Points are one thing, but the Canadian Olympian is logging mammoth ice time, playing a shut-down role against top opposition and generally doing everything that can be expected from a stud defenceman.

Goaltender Carey Price's record-setting year has seized the spotlight, but just outside its glare, Subban is playing better hockey than in his Norris-winning 2013 campaign.

It hasn't escaped the notice of the NHL's premier lightning rod that this has happened without the usual volume of ambient noise around him.

"A lot of it, I don't digest. If you digest it, it's going to be bad for your stomach," he joked. "This year people have spoken about me a lot less, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's weird because this is probably the best year I've had. Maybe there's irony in that."

Fans who kvetched early in the season that the 25-year-old wasn't living up to the hype of his eight-year, $72-million contract needn't have worried.

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Subban's possession numbers are far and away the best among the team's defencemen, and he has also shown elite penalty-killing chops.

Pro scouts from rival teams who have tracked Subban will tell you of a player still prone to unnecessarily fancy plays, but who no longer has any obvious flaws.

Subban has become, in the parlance, an efficient player.

An example: Whereas he would habitually skate for daylight or use a forechecker's momentum to slingshot himself into open space, Subban said he no longer needs to separate himself from defenders as often because his positioning, vision and the options in front of him have improved.

"I can tell you something, if you're more efficient throughout the season, come the third round of the playoffs, the Stanley Cup final, you're going to have a lot more energy," he said.

There was symmetry to Smith's penalty in that Subban was put on a spit and slow-roasted for a similar incident in January – he slashed Tampa's Brett Connolly from the bench in retaliation for his rough treatment of Markov. The Lightning promptly scored.

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The chattering classes tut-tutted about conduct unbecoming a would-be captain. It was a low point.

Well, unless you use it as a marker to measure his production. But in the 41 games since that night, he has scored 35 points. This despite a power play ranked in the bottom third of the league.

Subban's not short on confidence and reckons he could reach the 75-point mark if left to his own devices. It's a sign that such things have become unimportant.

"I would rather be on a championship team, I'm sorry … maybe those 10 or 15 points go to my teammates and they're feeling more confident," he said.

Subban's teammates and coaches have noticed the evolution.

"He's growing, he's getting older, more experienced," said Plekanec, who has been known to skirmish with his younger teammate in practice. "I saw it in myself: You play more years and you gain the experience to make the right play at the right time. He's gotten there."

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The Subban who burst onto the scene in the 2010 playoffs (the rookie was given a folding chair in the middle of the Habs' room in Pittsburgh, "I would have sat in the urinal," he said) has morphed into a savvier, self-contained player.

As another playoff run looms, it may come as a surprise to those who feel he is battling his inner instincts in playing this way that he's perfectly content.

"It's hard when I hear people say, 'Oh, I wish you'd skate more with the puck.' This is the best statistical year I've had, the best stat for me is being plus-19.

"We're doing a lot of good things as a team," he said. "I'm happy with playing this style and winning hockey games."

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