Expectations were high when GM Lou Lamoriello acquired center Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 30. The New York Islanders were desperately in need of scoring, and Horvat was in the midst of a career offensive season, with 31 goals in 49 games.
Horvat's previous career-high was 31 goals in 70 games the previous season, and those skeptical of the trade feared that regression was coming. After a quick start, Horvat's offensive production cooled down considerably, especially after Mathew Barzal was lost for the remainder of the regular season, as the 28-year-old finished with seven goals and nine assists in 30 games. Still, he contributed in other ways as the team relied on their defensive structure and played some of their best hockey of the season during a playoff push over the last quarter of the season.
Horvat was thrilled to be back in the playoffs.
He had excelled in the 2020 bubble with the Canucks, but had not been in a traditional playoff atmosphere since his rookie season as a 19-year-old. When the Isles clinched a spot against the Montreal Canadiens in the regular season finale, his teammates mobbed him on the bench, understanding how important it was for him to be back in the postseason and do it with his new teammates.
But a return to the postseason and a return of Barzal, did not lead to a return of Horvat's scoring touch. In the six game series against Carolina, he had only two points (1G, 1A) with his only goal coming short-handed near the end of the third period in a 5-2 loss in Game 4.
"I think I can be a lot better, to be honest with you," said Horvat after Game 4. "I think I'm doing a lot of good things away from the puck ... but at the end of the day I gotta find ways to score big goals and get on the scoresheet. Not in a 5-1 game, 5-2 games, I gotta find ways to make it meaningful."
In Game 5, he created a turnover that led to a 2-on-1 and a Barzal goal that proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 win, but in Game 6, as the Islanders sought a second goal to extend the lead they held for most of the game, Horvat was kept off the scoresheet in 23:02 TOI.
"I definitely take ownership in having to be better,” Horvat said.
One area Horvat and the entire team will have to be better is the power play. The poor play with the man advantage carried over from the end of the season and was arguably the difference in the series. The Islanders finished just 1 for 18 (5.6%) against the Hurricanes, one of the better penalty-kill units in the league. Horvat's ability to play the bumper position and deflect shots at a high-rate was expected to give a boost to the unit, but it got worse since his arrival, not better.
“This is a special group,” Horvat said after the Game 6 loss. “I’m sure a lot of guys have said that. I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to be a New York Islander. Obviously, I hold myself a little bit accountable. You want to produce . . . I would have liked to have been on the scoresheet a little bit more and help the team offensively. It just wasn’t the case. It stinks that way.”