The cliche goes, “The best defense is a good offense.” That may be true, but when your offense is inconsistent much of the time, it helps to have a decent blueline to fall back on. Not the case this season.
The Islanders allowed the fourth-highest number of goals in the NHL this regular season (255). That’s a combination of defensive and goaltending mistakes, but in order for the goalie to even touch the puck, it has to get through those two guys on the blueline first — and this D had some serious holes. The top six D on this team — Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic, Milan Jurcina, Steve Staios, Andrew MacDonald, and Mark Eaton — combined for a rating of -96. Two of them — Streit and Jurcina — were a -61 together. Add in 238 PIM among the six and you have a recipe for disaster.
Let’s break it down by player, shall we?
Mark Streit: The captain had a bit of adjustment to do after missing a full year with a shoulder injury and then being given this shiny new leadership position. The first half of the season was miserable for him, as he posted a -21 and was almost a non-factor on the PP, but in the second half he rebounded, scoring 21 points and only managing a -6 overall. Still, he managed only 47 points on the season (7 G, 40 A), a significant drop from his first season on the Island (though not much from his second). Grade: C
Travis Hamonic: Often the best defensive player on the team, Hamonic logged major minutes this season. He posted the highest plus-minus on the blueline with a +6. Not a typical goal scorer, he still managed 22 points on the season (20 of them assists), showing that he’s still a factor in the offensive rush. Though he still drops the gloves every now and then, his PIM have declined significantly (73, down from over 100 last season); he still has the highest PIM total on the defense, though many of those minutes were BS, in my opinion. Plus, he was a shot blocker extraordinaire. Grade: B+
Andrew MacDonald: Another top D, A-Mac picked up much of the slack alongside Hammer. Only a -5 all year, he played in multiple situations and showed a bit of a scoring touch with five goals. He also displayed smart, relatively disciplined play and blocked a fair few shots himself — one of which even sat him out earlier in the season. Grade: B+
Mark Eaton: Blah. Blah numbers, blah play, blah everything. His one goal this season was a showstopper (literally- it won us a game in OT against Ottawa), but other than that… just BLAH. No telling whether he’ll be back for another year, but I’d prefer someone a bit younger and less prone to mistakes on the D. Grade: C-
Milan Jurcina: This dude’s been the whipping boy all year, and mainly for good reason. A -34 on the year and often the reason for bad mistakes on defense, Jurcina doesn’t bring to mind any positives right now. He’s big, no doubt, but he doesn’t use his size for anything except getting in the goalie’s way most of the time. Grade: D-
Steve Staios: Older and slower, and his 53 PIM are basically due to him trying to slow down opponents with his stick or his arms. He can definitely serve as a role model — Hamonic says he’s learned a lot from the veteran — but we can find more mobile players than him. Grade: C-
Dylan Reese: Only played 28 games this year due to injury, but Reese still managed a decent 28 games, with seven points and an even rating. Can’t ask for much more than that. Hope to see more of him next year, as he’s a smart, well-spoken guy and a smart player on the ice too. Grade: B-
Overall Defensive Grade: C-. Some flashes of brilliance, but not nearly enough to help out the goalies or the offense once it managed to score some goals. Better luck next time.
Next up, I’ll be talking about the goalies. Nabokov will be here another year- who will back him up? (dun dun dunnn) Stay tuned.
(Above Photo Credit: Robert Kowal/flickr)