You'll pardon Montreal Canadiens' flashy rookie P.K. Subban if he doesn't know if he's coming or going considering all the mixed messages he has received this season.
"I try and spark my team and there's a problem with that," Subban told reporters on Monday. "If I score a goal, there's a problem with the way I celebrate. If I smile, there's a problem with my smile."
While he may be joking about the final point, the dynamic Subban seems to attract controversy the way a porch light collects moths.
The latest tempest in a teacup occurred Saturday night during the Habs' shutout of their hated rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Near the end of the first period, Subban accepted Leafs' forward Joffrey Lupul's invitation to a fight, however as Lupul paused to remove his chinstrap, Subban moved in and began throwing punches. Following the game, Lupul criticized Subban for attempting to get an unfair advantage in the tilt.
While both sides said they worked it out, Lupul still had a message for the talented, but seemingly controversy plagued youngster.
"I'll give him the benefit of the doubt this time that he didn't see, but eventually he'll stop getting the benefit of the doubt," Lupul told reporters following the game. "I don't have any problem with him, but his name keeps coming up in the media and eventually he'll stop getting the benefit of the doubt.
"He's got a lot to learn."
Subban says he understands that he still needs to learn, including how to deal with his burgeoning reputation around the league.
"The fight starts a little earlier than I think, then people are like 'you're a rookie, you've got to learn.' Then if it's the other way around, it's a problem."
Lupul is just the latest veteran to voice his displeasure with the style of play of the swift-skating 21-year-old. Earlier in the season Philadelphia Flyers' captain Mike Richards accused the Toronto native of being far too cocky and labelled Subban as not being as respectful to his elders as he should be.
Subban says he can't worry about extraneous factors and can only deal with the issues he can control.
"I just go out there and play hard and work hard for my teammates and the coaching staff. It's about the Montreal Canadiens. It's not about me or about anyone else. It's what's best for the organization. As long as I keep that in my head and not get sucked into it, I think everything should be fine."
While he was benched earlier in the season for his uneven play, especially in his own zone, Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin really likes what he's seen of late from Subban.
"Since we lost Josh Gorges I really feel like he's picked up his game, especially on the defensive side more than the offensive side," said Martin. "Playing with Hal Gill, he's given us some good hockey."
On a team whose blueline has been decimated by injuries and is in a nightly battle for playoff positioning in the tightly-bunched Eastern Conference, the Canadiens will need Subban to show that the newfound focus on his defensive game will continue as will his ability to provide the team a spark on offence. Martin realizes that sometimes it's best to point players in the right direction and let them play as opposed to trying to change them entirely.
"I try to guide him along as to what needs to be said and what he needs to pay attention to," said Martin. I think the most important part about him is to give him some objective and give him some direction as far as his play."
Considering his accelerated development during his rookie season so far, the only direction for Subban appears to be full speed ahead and Habs fans couldn't be happier.