Scoring a blue Streit

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

Considering the type of numbers he's putting up this season, one has to wonder what the Montreal Canadiens were thinking letting Mark Streit get away.

It's probably no coincidence the Canadiens' once potent power play has fallen on hard times with the departure of the six-foot, 197-pound defenceman, who was also used as a forward in Montreal.

Now a member of the New York Islanders, Streit is the highest scoring blueliner in the NHL with 32 points heading into last night's game against the Edmonton Oilers.

"I was definitely hoping to play as a defenceman full time, which is one of the big reasons that I left Montreal," Streit said. "Obviously the Islanders gave me that opportunity to show what I can do out there. I think it's easier when you play one position all the time, you can work on your game and gain some confidence."

The native of Englisberg, Switzerland, is a late bloomer. Having started his career in Europe, Streit, 31, spent a season with the AHL Springfield Falcons. He was drafted by the Canadiens in 2004 at age 26 and made his debut two years later after the lockout.

Streit had a breakout year in the last of three seasons with the Canadiens, finishing with 62 points.

"I had a different role in Montreal," Streit said. "Sometimes I was used on the fourth line on the wing, sometimes I was on the second line on the wing, sometimes I played defence.

"That was my role and my job and I got the feeling it was never going to change. I knew I had to make a move in order to be able to play defence full time. That's how I broke into the league, that was my spot when I first got to Montreal and played in the NHL.

"But after that I just felt I needed to take another step forward to improve my game, really show what I could do as a defenceman, I needed to make a switch."

This off-season, Streit signed a five-year, $20.5-million free agent contract with the Islanders.

"The Islanders offered me a great deal," Streit said. "I never expected I would be offered that at the beginning of last season. Things have gone really well for me and I'm really happy on the Island."

With the Islanders, Streit is tied for the team lead in scoring with Doug Weight and is averaging a team-high 25:13 minutes of ice time per night.

He's on the top defensive pairing, top power-play unit and kills penalties.

"He's been excellent this year," said Islanders head coach Scott Gordon. "One of the things going into the season, I don't know that we really knew what to expect from a defensive standpoint, being a guy that was a seventh defenceman (in Montreal), played a lot of forward and got most of his points on the power play.

"Because of that, you would expect that there might be some limitations with his defensive game, but he's been our leader in minutes played, not just from the offensive side, but because he's been reliable defensively, he usually plays against the other team's top two lines."

Streit has been one of the few bright spots for the Islanders, who are languishing at the bottom of the NHL standings this season.

He's certain to get an invitation to appear in his first all-star appearance later this month and is considered an early candidate for the Norris trophy as the league's best defenceman.

"I think he's a guy that certainly should get some consideration," Gordon said. "Especially given the fact that he's been able to produce and play a well-rounded game on a team that doesn't have the horses that maybe other teams do.

"I think that speaks in even greater volume about his abilities."


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