There's been a lot of excitement surrounding the arrival of Patrick Roy as New York Islanders head coach, but perhaps no player has been more energized and enthused by the arrival of the Hall-of-Famer and hockey icon than All-Star Mathew Barzal.
While being careful not to sound critical of Lane Lambert, Barzal has expressed that the puck possession and aggressive style Roy is preaching is "music to his ears," allowing him to play an instinctive game that is best for him and the team.
At Saturday's morning skate, Barzal went a step further when expressing his belief in what Roy is instilling in his new team. "We're building a blueprint that is going to allow us to become champions," said Barzal to the media ahead of tonight's game against the Florida Panthers.
The Islanders have lost two of Roy's first three games, but the underlying stats were more encouraging in their two losses than they were in their 3-2 O.T. win over the Dallas Stars. The Isles sent set season-high in shots each of the last two games, and their 46 shots-on-goal vs. Montreal were their most since 48 last February vs. Ottawa.
The team's star players have stepped up offensively in the last three games. Barzal has a goal and three assists, while Noah Dobson has six assists, and Bo Horvat has two goals and an assist. Unlike so many games in the first half of the season, the Islanders have trailed early and have been forced to mount a comeback, leading to more offensive chances as both Vegas and Montreal attempted to protect a multi-goal lead heading into the third period.
However, Roy has been emphasizing puck possession numbers and the amount of time spent in the offensive vs. defensive zone, and the early trends are good. Still, the same errors in judgment and poor puck management that plagued the team under Lambert have continued.
If the Islanders can limit their costly turnovers and make better decisions with the puck at crucial points of the game, Barzal and the Islanders may give themselves to play for that championship this spring. If they don't they'll spend an off-season lamenting all the points they've given away through the season; something that can't be part of a championship blueprint.