DETROIT - It is no secret the Flyers have been better in all three zones during their recent turnaround. But if you ask coach Craig Berube about one thing that could surely be better, he will point you toward defense participation in the offensive zone.
Only pingpong ball leader Buffalo has gotten less scoring (26 points) from its blue line this season than the Flyers (31).
Summer acquisition Mark Streit, who signed a hefty $21 million deal after being acquired from the Islanders, was supposed to solve that problem. Instead, both Streit and Kimmo Timonen are on pace for the least productive seasons of their careers.
"I think [Streit] is capable of more. He knows that he is, too," Berube said after the Flyers' 50-minute practice at Joe Louis Arena yesterday. "I think he's coming. I've liked a lot of things that he's done, too. He gets up and he joins the rush really well. I still think we can have our 'D' being more aggressive."
Look at the defensive point totals of the true Stanley Cup contenders and a picture emerges of not only their top-flight talent, but their involvement in the game plan. Chicago (77 points), St. Louis (70) and Phoenix (68) all more than double the Flyers' blue-line production. Eleven of the top 16 defensive scoring teams began last night as playoff teams - and that list doesn't include offensive juggernauts such as Pittsburgh, Washington and San Jose, who don't really count on their defense to score.
Streit has nine points (0.33 points per game), well below his career average of 0.57. Timonen has five points (0.19 points per game), a significant dip from his career average of 0.52. Combined, only four of their points have come at even strength.
By comparison, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban not only leads the Canadiens in scoring with 24 points, but he's nearly outscored the entire Flyers' defense corps by himself.
"I think in today's game, pretty much all of the top teams, their 'D' is jumping into the play to create offense," said Streit, a 62-point scorer in 2007-08. "They all have at least one guy on every play doing it. We have some guys that can skate and do it, but we need to do it on a consistent basis.
"Some nights, things are happening a little bit easier. But other nights, you need to try a little bit harder or get involved in a smart way."
The one difference from the beginning of the season until now is that Berube is giving his defensemen the green light. Previously, there was perhaps a complacency along the blue line; a team so dogged from play in its own end that contributing at the other end was merely a pipe dream.
But the defenseman can be a big boost to an offense that has scored two or fewer goals 20 times in 27 games. Andrej Meszaros ran a set play down low along the boards in the third period of Saturday night's win in Nashville that delivered the game's tying goal from Sean Couturier.
"It's something you have to practice," Berube said. "They haven't done it. They aren't used to it."
Streit, 36, said part of the onus is also on forwards to communicate and involve the defense. Play from the point isn't an option without consent from the forwards.
"The forwards need to get used to it, too," Streit said. "If the play goes too deep, we can bring it out and try to create some more offense."
So far, Streit acknowledges it's a work in progress. Frequent defensive partner Nick Grossmann joked that's because Streit is used to carrying a 240-pound weight on his back during games.
"He's a hell of a player, but I still don't think we've seen the best of him yet," Grossmann said. "He's so effortless on his skates. It seems like whenever he gets the puck, he always has time, even when he's under pressure. He's really smart with the puck. He has more to give. I think his best is still to come. Sometimes you see a player with those skills play solid like that for so long, they just take off."
Settling in after a 5-year run on Long Island, Streit hopes that is the case.
"I want to move the puck quick, jump into the play and be a fourth forward," Streit said. "That's something I want to do every night. I also know I will get better as the season goes on. I think I'm pointed in the right direction."
The Flyers have won only once (1-16-3) at Joe Louis Arena since Nov. 4, 1988 . . . Vinny Lecavalier(back spasms) seems likely to miss tonight's game. He did not skate yesterday for the second day in a row. Kimmo Timonen also did not participate in the 50-minute practice, but is expected to be available to play . . . Detroit is without top line Pavel Datsyuk (concussion), Henrik Zetterberg (herniated disk), Todd Bertuzzi (shoulder) and stud defenseman Dan DeKeyser (separated left shoulder). The Red Wings have quietly won four straight.