Streit can help by being offensive

With 10 goals and 44 points this season, Mark Streit (32) was first among Flyers defensemen.
With 10 goals and 44 points this season, Mark Streit (32) was first among Flyers defensemen. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: April 23, 2014

Mark Streit, the Flyers' best offensive defenseman, had no points and just one shot on goal through his first two games against the Rangers. No one talks about this. No one really should talk about this, at least not to suggest Streit has been doing something wrong. He hasn't, really.

He shoots the puck harder and more accurately than any of the Flyers' other defensemen, skates as well as any of them, can move the puck with as much deftness as any of them. Still, he is a defenseman. Preventing goals is his primary job. Scoring them is sauce.

And yet, no points, one shot. The Flyers already have two goals from defensemen in this series, including Luke Schenn's game-winner Sunday, but Streit remains a resource untapped, an advantage the Flyers could wield in Tuesday's Game 3 and beyond.

Understand: The Rangers have the deeper group of defensemen here. In Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, they have one of the NHL's top tandems and a handy scourge for Claude Giroux, provided coach Alain Vigneault can get McDonagh and Girardi on the ice against Giroux in Games 3 and 4, when the Flyers will have the final line change at the Wells Fargo Center. Nevertheless, Streit delivers a dimension that can make such a difference over a playoff series - a defenseman who can score.

He was a 62-point player with the Montreal Canadiens in 2007-08, an all-star with the New York Islanders in 2008-09, and if Giroux can't get going against Girardi and McDonagh, Streit's skills can help the Flyers fill the void.

"You need everyone contributing, whether it's your captain, your checking-line guys, or the defensemen," Schenn said. "Everyone needs to contribute in the playoffs. Historically, if you look at teams in the past who have had success in the playoffs, it's kind of those unsuspecting guys who have helped them. It's got to be all 20 guys contributing."

Schenn is right, but it's difficult to imagine his contributing again as he did in Game 2. He had four goals this season, has just 21 over his six NHL seasons, and the conditions were perfect for him to score that stunning second-period goal Sunday.

The Flyers controlled the puck during a delayed penalty. Once the Rangers touched the puck, play would stop, so Schenn had nothing to lose in surging up the ice to lift that backhander over Henrik Lundqvist.

Truth be told, it was the sort of play on which Streit has built his professional career, and he was so offensive-minded for so long that it was fair to question whether his roadrunner mentality was worth his shirking other responsibilities. Only now, at 36, after nine years in the Swiss League and eight in the NHL, has he finally married his instincts with his experience to know when to take a reasonable risk and join (or even lead) a counterattack. He was a plus-3 for the Flyers this season, just the second time since entering the NHL that he's been on the ice for more goals than his team has surrendered.

"For me, as a defenseman, it took a little time to pick my spots," said Streit, who had 10 goals and 44 points this season, both of which led the Flyers' defensemen. "As a 20- or 21-year-old, I used to jump all the time. It's just a matter of being smart and doing it the right way, and then it can be a big asset to the team. I like my instincts offensively to read and react off situations that come up on the ice. It just took a little time."

It was a lifelong process, actually. Streit was born in Bern, Switzerland, and as a boy he admired former Rangers defensemen Reijo Ruotsalainen, who played four years for Streit's hometown franchise in the Swiss League. There was something about the way Ruotsalainen skated, the ease of it, as if he were gliding above the ice, that captivated Streit. He still keeps a stick autographed by Ruotsalainen at home.

"I was always fascinated by those kinds of guys," he said. "As a defenseman, the offense usually starts with the first pass after a good decision defensively. Obviously, with today's game, it's changed so much. It's all about skating. The defensemen need to be good skaters. It's like everybody needs to be good at everything, a little bit."

The reality of the present-day NHL is why the Flyers were so quick to sign Streit last summer, to hand him a four-year, $21 million contract at his relatively advanced age, and it's why he still has a chance to change everything for them against the Rangers.

No points, one shot for Mark Streit, but those numbers don't have to matter once Game 3 begins Tuesday night. A playoff series is nothing if not a search by each opponent for an advantage to exploit, and the Flyers still have one available to them.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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