There is no question that the most valuable player for the New York Islanders is 24-year old Mathew Barzal.
While he has been an exciting player for New York over the last five seasons, the upcoming year is a rather important one. With his left winger Anders Lee back from a torn ACL and veteran Kyle Palmieri or rookie Oliver Wahlstrom on his right side, Barzal has some weapons to play with,
Weapons that should allow him to be more effective than he was a year ago.
But that will only happen if Mathew Barzal can stay on the ice. And that requires him to stay out of the penalty box and not to take as many unnecessary penalties.
A trend developed last season, one which Barzal will need to reverse if he is going to get the most out of his minutes.
Since becoming an everyday player in 2017, #Isles Mat Barzal has seen his PIM/GP increase each season:
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) September 7, 2021
It is easy to determine why the number was so high last season. Right? The offensively challenged Leo Komarov slotted into Lee’s spot, and Jordan Eberle struggled to produce.
The struggles of both Barzal’s wingers allowed opposing defensemen to hone in on the talented center, even double-teaming him at times, which led to the Islanders star taking penalties out of frustration.
Barzal recorded 30 penalty minutes in the first 27 games. At the time Lee was still healthy and playing alongside Barzal before suffering the season-ending injury in March.
In the 29 games that followed, Barzal took another 18 minutes of penalty time. Over that span, he had one game in which he took more than one penalty.
He had been booked for two or more penalties a total of four times — with a career-high 10 penalty minutes on January 28. — in the 27 games prior.
To sum things up, Barzal averaged 1.11 PIM per game before Lee’s injury and only 0.62 PIM following it.
While the Islanders were able to sneak their way into the postseason for a second straight season despite mediocrity, Barzal still struggled to stay out of the box then too. He recorded 19 PIM in 19 games, none more critical than his late-game decision in Game 5 of the semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Barzal cross-checked Jan Rutta leading to an ejection, but was lucky enough not to face suspension for the infraction.
Here's the close-up of Barzal's crosscheck on Rutta that does indeed show contact with head. Rutta is not on Tampa Bay bench. pic.twitter.com/oO7YTbS7bg
— NHL Safety Watch (@NHLSafetyWatch) June 22, 2021
Before Anthony Beauvillier forced a Game 7 with his overtime dagger for one of the most memorable postseason games at the historical Nassau Coliseum, Barzal had two critical primary assists. His plays allowed the Islanders to dig out of their 2-0 hole, and if he was not in the lineup, there would have been a strong chance that the series ended at six games.
The Islanders caught a break with the NHL Department of Player Saftey’s inconsistency in handing out supplementary discipline. Barzal’s lack of discipline could have severely impacted the Islanders’ fate.
Trotz did not hesitate to sit Barzal when he made critical mistakes that hurt his team during the regular season. However, if the Islanders want to win Barzal needs to be on the ice.
If Mathew Barzal can find a way to stay disciplined in 2021-22, the sky is the limit and it puts the Islanders in a better position for success.
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