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Islanders Bits: 'Fast defense,' and Strome, Ullstrom, Bailey


The Versus game last night included one of those behind-the-bench in-game interviews with the ever talkative Ken Hitchcock. Often nothing good is said there but Hitchcock, when asked about his teams' reputation for protecting leads (the Blues lost the 1-0 lead and the game), dismissed it as a holdover rep from his Dallas days in the clutch-and-trap NHL and added simply:

"To win in this league now you have to play fast defense."

One one level this is just coach-speak: There are 100 ways to describe very similar concepts every coach wants to instill. But on another level it stung to hear because a topic around here (outside of Micheal Haley's recall) has been the Islanders generally undermanned blueline and its limited mobility. Hitchcock means overall defense (including forwards), but it still applies here.

Now, reporters and broadcasters love to talk to Hitchcock because he loves to talk -- it's easy material, and I'm only proving that point with this -- but like fellow trappist pioneer Jacques Lemaire he is fun to hear talk hockey. He basically advocates a total "200-foot" game with constant, fast effort that takes away opposition time and space but also gives them little time to set up attack or defensive structure once you regain the puck.

It's taxing but effective. The Blues were already a good 5-on-5 team before they switched to Hitchcock, but you can see them close down gaps and space with almost robotic regularity. (Whether they can keep it up is another question.)

So anyway, what's the relevance here? The Islanders have too many blueliners who either play safe (Mark Eaton) or don't have the mobility to press (Milan Jurcina).

Mark Streit and Travis Hamonic get around fine, but you wonder about Andrew MacDonald taking maintenance days coming off hip surgery and having what many have thought were some bad outings. And the rest, well, they're not fast. Would the mobile Mark Katic, out with a major shoulder injury since training camp, make a difference in speed and puck movement on the Islanders' third pair right now? Probably.

Ty Wishart is no speedster, but his puck-moving instincts are solid, and perhaps there's something to Katic, Wishart and of course the fleet Jack Hillen being subtracted from last season's second half squad.

They have definitely made an effort to draft mobile puckmovers during this rebuild, but of course none of them outside of Hamonic -- whose strength is more an overall balance and a physical edge rather than pure speed -- are ripe yet. And while the forwards rightly take a lot of grief for failing to generate offense or do the basic things needed to generate more than two goals per game thus far, one can't help thinking the defense's overall inability to acquire and quickly distribute the puck is also an issue.

Blueline speed? It's probably coming eventually. But it wasn't packed in Micheal Haley's luggage.


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