Defenseman Streit becoming an offensive asset for the Flyers
Knocked for expensive deal signed last summer, defenseman Mark Streit has become a key weapon for the Flyers' offense.
SCRATCHING his head, Ken Hitchcock pored over the video from his Blues' 4-1 loss to the Flyers on March 22 on his laptop and counted.
The former NHL coach of the year sat back astonished with his findings.
"I counted five separate times where the Flyers' defensemen started from behind our forwards at their goal line and beat us up the ice on the rush," a stunned Hitchcock said in St. Louis 2 weeks back. "Five times."
Mark Streit was at the forefront of the attack.
After a lengthy adjustment period, Streit's offensive mindset has melted into the consciousness of his fellow defensemen, turning the Flyers' blue line into a scoring threat again.
Often criticized solely for the terms of his 4-year, $21 million deal signed last summer, Streit has quietly become an X-factor for the Flyers in their first-round playoff matchup with the New York Rangers that begins tomorrow night.
"Whenever you join a new team, new teammates, new system, new surroundings . . . I felt comfortable, but maybe it just took time to play better as a team and individually," Streit said. "I thought at the end of the season, everybody chipped in offensively and defensively, and it made a difference."
Streit, 36, single-handedly made a difference over the last half of the season - finishing with 10 goals and 34 assists for 44 points for the season. He is among only a handful of Flyers defensemen (Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Chris Pronger and Joni Pitkanen) to eclipse the 40-point mark in a season since Eric Desjardins retired.
In perspective, Streit collected more points than Rangers "sniper" Rick Nash (39) netted in 65 games this season.
Streit finished the season with the NHL's longest active point streak, totaling 10 points (one goal and nine assists) in his last six games. Columbus rookie Ryan Johansen collected eight points during that same span of games. Yet, Streit received little fanfare.
"Toward the end of the season, you could really see the potential he has, just the speed and skill set he has as an offensive player," said Nick Grossmann, who was paired with Streit for part of the season. "He's a really crafty player.
"He's kind of like a forward when he skates; he's always joining the play. He's really smart and he uses that skating ability. We know firsthand how hard it is to defend against guys like that joining the rush."
Part of Streit's increase in offense as the season progressed has been a product of a green light from coach Craig Berube to get involved in the play. Once the Flyers gripped his system in the defensive zone, Berube pushed his blue liners to join the rush more.
Streit has constantly needed to remind his counterparts to keep skating - something Berube also stressed from Day 1.
"It's the mindset that once you move the puck, you don't stop to watch. You keep skating and moving your legs to join the play," Streit said. "It just took a little time."
Active defensemen not only help the Flyers increase pressure, but they also become a second option if the forwards run out of space. As it is everywhere in Manhattan, real estate will be at a premium at Madison Square Garden this week.
The Flyers want to get traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist, cut off his line of sight and play the tip game. Streit has been masterful at finding seams for shots.
"The Rangers are a good shot-blocking team," Berube said. "Against a guy like Henrik Lundqvist, it's about being competitive and getting pucks to the net. [Defensemen] need to make sure they get [shots] through to the net.
"It's not necessarily how hard you shoot, but it's about getting them through, making sure you have some traffic and are getting some tips. He's good. He's got some little moves at the blue lines where he fakes a checking guy coming at him and he gets the puck through."
Streit's contract might have seemed steep, both in the summer and in November, but this is the time of year when he could really make those millions go a long way.
"The playoffs are a different story. This never gets old," Streit said. "This is the best time of the year. It was a lot of work to make it to the playoffs, but now we get to play at the Garden. We just have to be calm, control our emotions and enjoy the moment."