John Tavares and Mathew Barzal never truly shared the ice at 5on5. They spent 22:36 of 5on5 time together. Barzal had more 5on5 time with Alan Quine than he did with Tavares. But could John Tavares’s departure be the reason that Barzal hasn’t hit the same heights he hit in 2017-18?
The argument goes that with Tavares in the lineup, Barzal benefited by getting easier matchups. And now that Tavares is gone, Barzal is now playing against better defenders and so that’s why he’s struggling.
It’s an easy argument to make. John Tavares was the 1C and Barzal was the 2C. Tavares would then get the tougher matchup from the other teams. But that’s not the case. Lighthouse Hockey’s Travis Flynn debunked that back in 2018.
While the narrative of Tavares getting the tougher defensive matchups was true at the start of 2017-18, that wasn’t the case by the end. While Tavares’ xGF stayed stable against top tier D1’s, Barzal’s just got better as the season progressed.
But how has Barzal done since Tavares left? With (almost) two full seasons without Tavares what has Barzal done against top tier defenders?
Against top D-pairs Barzal has done progressively better year-over-year. Using Travis Flynn’s formula’s I looked at Barzal’s xGF at 5on5 (score and venue adjusted) against D1 and D2 players in 18-19 and 19-20 and in both years it went up.
In 2017-18, Barzal ended the year floating around a 0.55 xGF against top d pairs. In 2018-19 he averaged a 0.45 xGF against top pairs, and in 2019-20 that average went up to 0.54 xGF against top pair defenders.
The issue that Barzal doesn’t perform well against top tier blueliners is still false. So is the issue his teammates?