To those wondering about the tenor of Michel Therrien's relationship with his brilliant, occasionally maligned franchise defenceman, the Montreal Canadiens head coach insists nothing's amiss.
Indeed, he says the tough love dispensed to P.K. Subban isn't about clashing personalities, it's by design.
After passing up a chance last week to talk up Subban's candidacy for Team Canada's blueline, Therrien pointedly criticized the 24-year-old after a 4-1 loss in Colorado last weekend – injudiciously, in the minds of some fans.
But it was less the product of emotion than it was calculation.
"Of course, I have an objective," Therrien said of his postgame remarks, "so far, it's gone pretty well."
On the occasion of his 50th birthday – marked at practice when forward Brendan Gallagher delivered an exquisitely timed shaving-cream pie to his face – Therrien shrugged off the idea his relations with Subban might be fraying.
The reigning James Norris Memorial Trophy winner is "a thoroughbred. You have to guide a thoroughbred because he will win you races."
"Our relationship? Coaching is coaching. Coaching is about drawing the maximum out of players, and it's all part of that. I'm quite aware of his talent, I know exactly how far he can go. We're going to do what it takes to get there, that's where he wants to go too. It's a challenge any coach would want," he continued.
Therrien also said he hopes every Habs player with 2014 Olympic ambitions would have the opportunity to live their dream, and that it would only benefit the team (in contrast to last week's not-for-me-to-say stance).
It bears mentioning if Subban has issues with the way Therrien is handling him, he's not willing to express them publicly.
"It's not my job to have feelings towards how you get coached, it's my job to do the job on the ice, that's all I focus on," he said last week.
Therrien is correct to point out Subban, notwithstanding a defensive slip-up or two, like one where he gave away a puck behind the net and cost his team a goal in Denver, is doing well.
He is, after all, leading the team in scoring, and sits second in league scoring among defencemen to Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators (another well-known swashbuckler who doesn't appear to provoke the concern among his national team selectors that Subban does).
Now, if only Therrien could figure out what to do with centre David Desharnais, he of the one, lonely point in 15 games.
Desharnais spent much of the third period in Denver on the bench, and skated with the fourth line Monday; though he has limited the $3.5-million (U.S.) forward's ice time, Therrien isn't aiming barbs at him in public, not yet.
"We haven't given up hope with Davey," said Therrien, who deflected questions about whether Desharnais might watch the next game from the press box (with Alex Galchenyuk switching to centre on the top line and the decision to call up journeyman Martin St-Pierre, it has to at least be a possibility).
It's a mystifying dry spell for Desharnais, the diminutive playmaker who scored 60 points in 81 games in 2011-12 and inked a long-term contract last year.
He accepts it's up to him to find a way out of it.
"Sometimes, you have to take a step backward to go forward again," he said. "It's a challenge … I've faced them my whole career, it's something I'm fine with."
Considering Desharnais's lack of offence and the injury list – winger Daniel Brière is free of concussion symptoms and has resumed skating, as have Brandon Prust (upper body), Travis Moen (facial fracture) and Alexei Emelin (knee) – Therrien is correct to point out "we're playing some pretty good hockey."
They sit at 8-7-0 despite playing 11 of their first 15 against the powerful Western Conference.
After a date Tuesday with the streaking St. Louis Blues, the Habs will embark on a stretch in which only five of 26 games are against Western opponents.