Mathew Barzal carrying banged-up Islanders with elite-level play


Share post:

EDMONTON, Alberta — This is the year in which the Islanders needed Mathew Barzal to jump into that upper echelon of NHL stars, and this is the year in which he is obliging.

That has never been more clear than the four games since the Islanders returned from the Christmas break, during which Barzal has scored five goals, doubling his season total heading into the holidays. The lack of scoring had been a thread earlier in the season, when Barzal insisted it didn’t get to him when it took until Game No. 19 to light the lamp for the first time. He was similarly nonchalant about the goals starting to come on Tuesday night in Vancouver, following a three-point performance in which his no-look pass to Casey Cizikas was a highlight of the Islanders’ 6-2 demolition of the Canucks.

That does not stop everyone around him from acknowledging what Barzal finally scoring — while he is already on pace to challenge his career-high in assists — means to this team.

“When he competes like he is right now, he’s skating, he’s making the right decision, he’s shooting the puck more,” Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “He’s got a great shot. When he’s playing with confidence like that, he’s a player who can make a difference.”

Islanders center Mathew Barzal celebrates a goal against the Penguins.

“You kinda follow him up the ice,” Cizikas said. “You find him an area where you know he’s gonna be able to get you the puck. You give him a yell, you give him a holler. If he thinks he can get it there, he’s gonna try and that’s the biggest thing. … The way he’s dominating the play with the puck, the way he’s controlling it and making the other team as uncomfortable as I’ve seen in a long time.”

As for the pass, which froze Vancouver’s defense long enough for Cizikas to fire one clean past Spencer Martin?

“Eyes in the back of his head,” Cizikas said.

Barzal said at the beginning of his media session Tuesday night that he didn’t feel like he was shooting more. Just a couple minutes later, though, he cast doubt upon his own assertion.

“Maybe I am looking to shoot a little more,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like that mentally. Maybe I am pulling the trigger a little quicker than in the past. I thought I actually turned down a good look today from Casey [Cizikas] that he gave me. I knew if I got another look, I was gonna shoot.”

The initial instinct was right. Barzal is actually shooting at a slightly lower rate during his last four games, over which he’s been on a scoring tear, with five goals. According to Natural Stat Trick, he’s averaging 7.47 shots per 60 minutes during that span, with 7.54 shots per 60 in all games preceding it.

Mathew Barzal has 10 goals and 30 assists for the Islander this season.

Maybe then, as Barzal suggested, there is just some good fortune going on. His shooting percentage has rebounded to 10.9 percent, almost exactly in line with his career 11.1 mark, which suggests some regression.

It does, though, look like the puck is coming off his stick with a little more oomph than it was a couple months ago. Barzal did not start the season poorly by any stretch, and his ability to facilitate has keyed the Islanders all season. He’ll always be a better passer than a scorer, and even amid the scoreless drought that plagued him, he was one of the Islanders’ best players night in and night out.

Still, that upper echelon of NHL centers requires some goals for admission.

And right now, Barzal is carrying a banged-up Islanders team that, despite missing a litany of key players, has played some of its best hockey of the season over the five games leading into Wednesday’s match against the Oilers.

That is what $73.2 million is supposed to buy.

Source link

Related articles

Woodruff, Musgrove among best bets

While the AL Cy Young race this year is as wide open as any futures market this...

Can anyone catch the Astros?

The Post’s Jon Heyman breaks down the AL West: 1. Houston Astros O/U wins: 95.5 Key player: Yordan Alvarez. The...

Danny Hurley won’t change clothes, dragon underwear until UConn loses

Underneath it all, Dan Hurley is a fire-breathing dragon.  What’s the evidence for this, beyond the 50-year-old UConn...

Can Padres topple mighty Dodgers?

The Post’s Mark W. Sanchez previews the NL West: 1. Los Angeles Dodgers O/U wins: 96.5 Key player: Max Muncy....