The NY Islanders will not win if Mat Barzal and Noah Dobson do not perform like stars

Recent mistakes from each player have highlighted the Isles 4-game losing streak.

Mar 16, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA;  New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) makes a pass
Mar 16, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) makes a pass / Thomas Salus-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Islanders have seen a drastic decline in performance in just the past couple of games. After a 6-game winning streak, the Isles found themselves back in a playoff spot with a chance at better seeding territory come April. The team came back from seven points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild-card spot to tie them at 72 points. The Islanders were within striking distance of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers for more playoff assurance.

For every hot streak comes a cooling-off period for every team in the NHL. Normally, a team will win a few games in a row and then play at a .500 winning percentage for the next subset. In other words, teams that play at an even wins and losses record for most of the season with the exception of a couple of winning streaks guarantee them a playoff spot. Out of good fortune, the Islanders won six straight while the Red Wings lost four games in a row.

Mar 7, 2024; San Jose, California, USA; (L to R) New York Islanders left wing Anders Lee (27) ,
Mar 7, 2024; San Jose, California, USA; (L to R) New York Islanders left wing Anders Lee (27) , / Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Isles have instead lost four in a row and trail the Red Wings by one point. They were shutout in the first 2 against the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres while recording just one point against the last-place Ottawa Senators. There are many culprits when searching for the reasons for these losses after the team looked destined for a postseason berth. Teams can overcome mistakes made by bottom-six forwards like Pierre Engvall's holding penalty against the Rangers that cost the Isles a powerplay. They can even overcome Adam Pelech's struggles, like falling at the blue line in overtime against the Senators.

However, the Islanders will not win if Mathew Barzal and Noah Dobson do not perform.

When a team struggles, their best players must step up and set the tone that a lack of performance is unacceptable amid a playoff chance. Bo Horvat has perfected this by tying the game with 37 seconds left on Saturday and scoring twice at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

On the opposite end, Barzal's performance has been lackluster for his standards. He had just one shot on goal against the Kings and Sabres while taking a slashing penalty that negated a powerplay for Trevor Moore's high sticking call. The top line's offense could not garner momentum because of Barzal's turnovers in the neutral zone. We know Barzal's offensive zone entrees are better than this. Patrick Roy has held the 26-year-old accountable by pulling him from the top powerplay unit against the Sabres and dropping him to the second line on Sunday.

Dobson's performance has been even more alarming. His turnover at the blue line against the Sabres led to Zach Benson's empty-netter. He turned the puck over once more leading to Brady Tkachuk's goal on Saturday. Dobson's delay of the game penalty handed Tkachuk his second of three goals. His passing ability has been mute on the powerplay, forcing Roy to swap him for Mike Reilly on the top powerplay unit. Through the first 62 games of 2023-24, Dobson was the team's best defenseman and a James Norris Memorial Trophy candidate.

For the Islanders to keep pace with the Red Wings, their two franchise cornerstones cannot make mistakes. Aside from Horvat and Nelson, Barzal and Dobson's breakout seasons are why this roster has a chance to clinch the postseason in back-to-back seasons. In 2022-23, Ilya Sorokin's heroics allowed the Islanders to contend with the Carolina Hurricanes in round one. Given his disappointing 2023-24, the other star players must step up with just 15 games remaining; and that starts with Barzal and Dobson.