3. Islanders Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle still M.I.A.
It should’ve been no secret coming into this first-round series that the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to do everything in their power not to let Mathew Barzal beat them. They have played Barzal suffocatingly tight through the series’ first two matches, and it’s proven to be working thus far.
The Islanders are a team who can rely upon scoring throughout their lineup. After all, they didn’t have a single 20-goal scorer in 2020-21. However, like with any team, if you keep the Islanders top line in check, it makes the workload a lot heavier for the rest of the group.
Pittsburgh are going to force the rest of this Islanders team to beat them. Mathew Barzal and his main wingman, Jordan Eberle, are going to continue getting harassed at every turn. The Penguins realize that is one of the keys to beating the Isles, and they’re executing that game plan to perfection through two games.
Sure, New York won the first game of this best-of-seven, but obviously Penguins coach Mike Sullivan feels much more comfortable giving J-G Pageau’s line space to beat his team than Barzal’s.
That’s the reality of being the guy on your team. John Tavares dealt with it as an Islander. Sidney Crosby deals with it on a regular basis. Every star player is relied upon by his team to face the toughest of tough competition and find ways to make their game work.
To this point, Barzal hasn’t been able to do that. But that’s not to say he won’t. With home ice in games three and four, and more favorable matchups likely to fall his way, Barzal will likely have some more room to work with on Coliseum ice.
It is imperative that he finds ways to make that room count. The Islanders hopes of winning this series and advancing will likely depend on it.