He never ‘left’, but Mathew Barzal hasn’t exactly been the same player for the New York Islanders of late. But with four points over his last four games, Barzal is back.
Mathew Barzal did what only Mathew Barzal can do against the Montreal Canadiens. With three minutes left in the third period, the New York Islanders Calder winner from 2018 stripped Max Domi of the puck before racing up the ice and setting up team captain Anders Lee with the easiest goal of his career. A goal that would be the game-winner in a must-win game for the Islanders.
The goal from Anders Lee, his 25th on the season, was good, but the assist was better. With no backpressure to speak of, Barzal was able to wait for Lee to create the 2-on-1 and then open up the Habs defender to feed Lee for the easy tap in.
Anyone other than Barzal would have either taken the shot, only for an excellent Carey Price to gobble it up or failed to get it through Jeff Petrie.
The assist on Lee’s goal was Barzal’s fourth point in five games. That sounds like the Mathew Barzal of old. Except that over a 20 game stretch between January 17th and March 3rd, this wasn’t the Mathew Barzal the New York Islanders were getting.
20 Game Stretch
Over that 20 game stretch, Mathew Barzal scored nine points (four goals, five assists). That still sounds like a good return, but at under half-a-point-per-game that was far off the pace for Barzal.
His sophomore season started off well. For much of the season, he was floating at a point per game pace. By January 10th he was scoring at a 0.976 point per game pace. And then a dip happened.
In the 20 game sample from Jan 17th to March 3rd, he averaging 1.9 shots on goal per game and scored those aforementioned nine points. Compare that to the 22 points and 2.75 shots on net per game (on average) in the 20 games between December 4th and January 15th.
The something was up with Mathew Barzal between January 17th and March 3rd.
Linemates and Sustaining this
Say what you will about Mathew Barzal’s play over that stretch, but it didn’t help that he was constantly lugging around a revolving door of bottom six players around the ice. Players like Anthony Beauvillier, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Leo Komarov.
Neither of those players has a skill set that lends itself well to the way Barzal plays. Neither of them is particularly good at finding space in the slot, neither of them is particularly good at getting the pucks down along the boards, and neither of them is any good at opening space for Barzal to attack the slot.
Barzal needs a player that can support him by being strong along the wall to help him retrieve the puck and down in the slot where Barzal can feed them the puck. That’s why a pairing with Anders Lee has seen good returns in the short time they’ve been together.
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With four points in his last four games, Mathew Barzal seems to be back to his regular self. With skilled linemates, he should be helping turn that New York Islanders offense around.
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