Mark Streit and Dylan Reese are two names you don't often hear together. One of them is a legend of Swiss hockey and the other gets in half price at Hershey Park. If not for them both being part of the Islanders organization their names would probably never be mentioned in the same paragraph. Yet both of them in their own way are a part of the answer for the Islanders. At least if that answer involves being competitive for a playoff spot.
The early season struggles of Mark Streit has most Islander fans worried. His minus-13 is tied for worst amongst Isles defenseman (and second-worst of all skaters), with Streit's most common partner Milan Jurcina also at minus-13. Streit has already had 4 games in which he was a -3 or worse. For comparison in his first two Islander seasons he only had a -3 or worse in 5 games. The biggest worry though is this comes after he was given the C, and in his age 33-34 year (Dec. 11) he is one of the Islanders oldest players to be in their long term plans.
ThAfter missing a year of hockey, you could expect some bumps in the road. Last season Kyle Okposo missed half the season and didn't look right until early March. He was also eased back into the lineup, and had nowhere near the responsibility he had the previous season. While in 2009-10 Okposo had been averaging 20 minutes a game, last season he was down to 16 minutes. He also wasn't put immediately back on the first line, but instead joined Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner who were defensively sound.
Unfortunately the Islanders can't afford to do that with Streit, at least if they expect to compete for a playoff spot. They could have possibly eased off his minutes this season, but unfortunately the injuries and struggles of Andrew MacDonald left them without a strong second D pairing. Part of the flirtation with Christian Ehrhoff might have been to take some pressure off the returning Streit. Alas, Ehrhoff found Buffalo more appealing in winter.
In time Streit is due to return to form. When the team has such a thin margin of error between winning and losing, it magnifies every mistake made on the ice, such as last night's misread on the 2-on-1 that resulted in a Maple Leafs shorthanded goal that turned the game. At the same time in his first two seasons as an Islander Streit played near perfect hockey. It's unfortunate that the Islanders have to lean on him so heavily while he is struggling. Without other options to turn to though, Streit and the Islanders are just going to have to play through it and hope for the best.
I don't think this is a sign that Streit is heading into a decline. Much like the discussion of Dwayne Roloson's age going into last season, it may come down to games played. Streit currently sits at 393 NHL games played. In 9 seasons in the Swiss league he totaled 365 regular season games and 106 playoff games. Chris Phillips for example is 33 this season and already has 980 regular season games played. It is too early and too soon to declare that Streit is already a declining player. But his performance in his first three months since returning from injury makes him look that way.
Don't Call it a Comeback
Meanwhile, Dylan Reese has been surprisingly good this season, at least in comparison to Mike Mottau. On the radio last night Chris King said Reese had played his best hockey as an Islander, and it sounds like a lot of fans around this site agree. While last year at this time we were scratching our heads as Reese struggled, he kept getting called up ahead of Mark Katic and Dustin Kohn. This season though opinion has swung in the opposite direction. The question is why is Mottau still playing for the Islanders and Reese is at Bridgeport?
While it wasn't surprising that Reese was brought back this season as an emergency call up, his leadership role at Bridgeport has been pleasantly surprising. Reese is among the oldest players on the team, and one of two returning players who are over 25. His 12 points are tied for the team lead for defenseman with Matt Donovan. His even +/- is best among the teams regular defenseman. For a player largely kept around because he can fill in at the NHL level but also clear waivers, his play and leadership have been added bonuses for Bridgeport.
Maybe it's being a leader at Bridgeport, or maybe the writing on the wall, or any number of factors, but Reese is a much better player so far this year. At 16 minutes a game he's even getting more ice time than he did in his last two NHL seasons. He doesn't even have the advantage of playing with Freddy Meyer IV this time. Some players bloom later in their career, and in the case of Reese the Islanders might have lucked out.
In Mark Streit the Islanders have questions, but no answers. In Dylan Reese the Islanders have an answer, but to questions they seemingly don't want to mention. Both players in their own way are going to be important to how this season goes.