While watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll on, the question comes up what do the New York Islanders need to do to get back to playing this time of the year?
One of the key answers is that the Isles need Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat to be top-line performers. Looking back at the first-round series versus the Carolina Hurricanes, one of the reasons the Isles fell short is they didn't score enough. In three of the six games versus Carolina, they scored two goals or less in three of them (only scored 1 goal in 2 of those games).
Not scoring enough was a trend that continued from the regular season. As stated before, the Isles finished 22nd in the regular season in goals per game at 2.95. For the Islanders' goal-scoring to take a big step forward next season and beyond, the combo of Barzal and Horvat playing at a high level, whether linemates or not, is critical.
When Barry Trotz was the Islanders' head coach he use to say on certain occasions when one of his players was having a terrific night, "he was dangerous".
Barzal and Horvat need to be dangerous next season.
They certainly were not dangerously in the playoffs this year, as Barzal just had 2 goals with no assists, and Horvat had one goal and one assist versus Carolina. Hard to beat a top team like the Hurricanes when your best players at not performing at their best.
Barzal, who only played in 58 games due to an injury in Boston in February, did produce offensively with 14 goals, 51 points in 58 games. Horvat was 'dangerous' (albeit mostly with the Vancouver Canucks last year), with 38 goals and 70 points in 79 games.
The Isles need their dynamic top-line duo to get back to being dangerous come next season.
Improvement Will Mostly Be Internal
Do not look for Lou Lamoriello to add a big-time goal scorer this summer. With the Islanders' current cap space and thin cupboard of future assets (prospects and draft picks), the blue and orange will have to improve their goal-scoring prowess from within.
Believe it or not, that is realistic. Between Barzal, Horvat, and Oliver Wahlstrom taking a big step forward next season that can happen.
Adding a puck-moving defenseman could go a long way to helping the offense production as well, especially on the Islanders' power play which has to get better. As cited before the Islanders finished with the 30th-best power play at 15.8% and went 1 for 18 with the man advantage in their series against Carolina.
The Isles and Lamoriello have built this team with Barzal and Horvat leading the way offensively (along with Brock Nelson who was their best player last year with 36 Goals, and 75 Points in 82 Games). Come next season they have to produce as top-line performers.