2. Barzal continues to power Islanders at 5v5
Sometimes it feels like we don’t deserve Mathew Barzal. On a night in which Casey Cizikas scored a goal that could be in contention for an award at the season’s end, and Semyon Varlamov had another strong outing, Barzal found a way to steal the spotlight away late with a dazzling undressing of Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
Barzal’s goal with just over six and a half minutes remaining in regulation appeared as though it would be the game-winner, and it would’ve been entirely appropriate for that to have been the case.
The Islanders top-line center again showed his value to this team on Thursday, not only by posterizing Joseph but also by driving play on one of the Islanders best lines. Couple that with the quality of competition the Barzal line faced (Barry Trotz matched them against the Crosby line most of the night) and their performance becomes even more impressive.
The Islanders number 13’s most-visible plays of the night showed his transcendent talent. From using his edges to slip away from a forechecking Sidney Crosby to showing off his slick puck-handling and shot against Joseph and Casey DeSmith, Barzal’s high-end offensive talent was on display throughout this one.
Perhaps less eye-catching but equally as important, Barzal was a crucial back-checker on Thursday too. More than once he was the man breaking up a Pittsburgh pass in the defensive zone. He used his strong skating ability to play in all 200 feet of the ice, which has become a welcome feature of his every night game.
According to Moneypuck, Barzal’s .67 individual expected goals led the Islanders in that category in all situations. That figure accounts for 21% of the Islanders roster’s total expected goals and is .23 higher than the next Islanders player in ixG; Michael Dal Colle.
Barzal now has ten points on the Islanders 20 even-strength goals this season. With his goal last night, he increased his point streak to seven games.
Barzal’s brilliance has been an integral factor for the Islanders all season. Not every game has been a masterpiece for the center, but most of them have been very strong performances. The Islanders will need that trend to continue as this season progresses.