Bo Horvat has to be better next season.
He knows that and GM Lou Lamoriello thinks managing his TOI could be how it happens.
Lamoriello didn't offer Horvat's workload as an excuse at Tuesday's press conference, but perhaps a contributing factor for why Horvat struggled to score goals following the injury to Mathew Barzal on Feb. 28. "When Mat got hurt, I think we overused him," Lamoriello said. "He played too much."
"Not second guessing or questioning the decision to do that," Lamoriello added. "He was killing penalties, power play, 5-on-5, and taking every key face-off draw."
Horvat actually played slightly more on average in 49 games with Vancouver (20:49 TOI) than he did in his 30 games with the Islanders (20:24 TOI). However, when you look at the individual game logs, you can understand where Lamoriello is getting that perspective.
The trend actually started before the Barzal injury. Horvat played 27:43 in a 3-2 SO loss to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 14. He then played 24:18 at home versus Pittsburgh Penguins in a 5-4 win at UBS Arena. After that, his TOI returned to normal but spiked again following Barzal's injury on Feb 18. in Boston. During a six-game stretch from Feb. 28 through March 14th, Horvat played at least 22 minutes in all but one game and topped 23 minutes twice.
The Barzal injury wasn't the only reason for the uptick in ice time. The biggest factor may have been the injury to JG Pageau, as it resulted in Horvat being asked to take the vast majority of the key defensive zone face-offs throughout the game. "You have to be very careful when you're sending people out for face-off draws," Lamoriello said. "They can get caught out there because it can become a couple-minute shift and then the recovery period for the next one."
When Pageau came back on Mar. 24, Horvat's TOI came back down, even below his average numbers. He topped 20 minutes just once over the team's final 10 games.
Horvat doesn't have to be the player that was on a 50-goal pace when he was acquired by the New York Islanders from the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 30, but he has to play to the caliber of a 30-35 goal scorer that is a consistent offensive threat when playing on the top line.
“I think I can be better, to be honest with you,” Horvat said after the team's Game 3 loss at UBS Arena. “I think I’m doing a lot of good things away from the puck and winning my faceoffs, doing that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day, I gotta find ways to score big goals and get on the scoresheet."
The increase in TOI was done out of of necessity. The hope is that if that Horvat is playing normal ice time and doing the majority of it alongside Barzal on the wing, the scoring will return to normal as well.