Now that Bo Horvat is locked up long-term with the NY Islanders, it leaves question as to how the head coach Lane Lambert is going to deploy his players with so many centers involved. Having a plethora of centers is certainly a problem that most NHL general managers and head coaches wish they'd have, and now Lambert has plenty to work with at his disposal. Sunday's morning skate revelaed quite a lot, starting with the fact that Mathew Barzal seems to finally have a permanent running mate on his line. The question becomes, who's the center and who shifts to the wing?
“(Barzal’s) been playing with Casey (Cizikas)," Lambert explained. "Casey has taken some of the center responsibilities from him when that happens. So I think it's a good fit, kind of seamless for Barzy and for (Horvat).”
In Horvat's first morning skate with the Islanders, it was revealed that the newest Islander was placed as the first line center during drills with Barzal on his wing. As line rushes continued throughout practice, Horvat and Barzal did swap positions back and forth, but it appears as though Lambert has made up his mind. It'll be Horvat in the faceoff dot, while Barzal skates the puck up and down the ice in transition.
“Like I said, (Barzal’s) been playing with (Cizikas)," Lambert continued. "A lot of time he’s filtering back into the zone on the wing. It’s always going to be a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s not something that we haven’t been talking about and working on over the last period of time with him as well. I don’t think it’ll be too bad.”
It certainly makes sense for Horvat to assume center duties in the faceoff circle. Horvat ranks 15th overall in the NHL with a 56% win rate in faceoffs. Barzal is having a career-worst season in faceoffs, winning just 35.9% of draws. Barzal certainly doesn't seem to mind either. He's excited to have the newest Islander on the team and his line.
"We haven't had a spark like this for a while."- Mathew Barzal on Bo Horvat's arrival
Lambert was also quite complimentry of his new player, especially given how much Horvat should help a struggling Islanders power play.
“I thought he was extremely intelligent in a lot of different areas," Lambert said. "We worked on the power play quite a bit today. He looked good in the spot he’s in on the power play and we’ll just continue to push forward. He’s got a lot on his plate and now I just want him to use his instincts to play hockey.”
Horvat was seen in the bumper slot on the Islanders first unit power play. According to NYIHockeyNow's Stefen Rosner, the first power play at practice ended in Horvat scoring bar-down.
It's now full steam ahead for a playoff run with Horvat locked up for eight more years following the 2022-23 season and now the new No.1 center with Barzal on his wing. The duo is expected to be flanked by Josh Bailey on the left wing in their first game against the Philadelphia Flyers Monday night.