Old Westbury, NY–When Bo Horvat joined the New York Islanders midway through last season, the instant connection he found with Mathew Barzal appeared to be the answer to many of the obstacles the team had faced to that point.
But when Barzal suffered a lower-body injury that forced him to miss the final stretch of the regular season, it put another blockade in their way.
Barzal did eventually return to the lineup in time for the playoffs. But, because he wasn’t back at full strength, the spark he and Horvat displayed early on was no longer present, leaving many to wonder if it ever would be as the offseason began.
But before solving their on-ice issues, Horvat and Barzal first had to figure out the ones they faced away from it.
For Horvat, that meant finally getting adjusted to living on Long Island.
Horvat packed up his entire life when the Islanders acquired him from the Vancouver Canucks before last year’s trade deadline. While he almost immediately laid down his roots here, it never felt like home without his family.
“He jumped on a moving train,” said Islanders head coach Lane Lambert at the Islanders’s annual golf outing on Monday.”I thought he did a pretty good job of it as well. What is behind the scenes that isn’t seen is family and everything like that. That all plays a factor in a guy’s performance.”
Now that he’s acquainted with his new surroundings, Horvat is ready to start his first full season with the Islanders the right way.
“It’s been a great offseason,” said Horvat.” I’m feeling good going into camp, but I think I mostly feel good being settled. We have our house now, and the kids are getting settled, and my wife is getting settled. Being able to skate with the guys and actually getting a training camp under my belt going into the season is going to be a lot better.”
As for Barzal, he still needed to fully recover from his injury. Now that he has, both Horvat and Barzal believe they can find their chemistry again.
“When he first got in, we were flying,” said Barzal. “When the playoffs rolled around, I was coming off an injury, so we couldn’t really find it like we wanted to. But I think if you look at the skillsets and whatnot, it should work.”
“Hopefully, we can rekindle what we had,” said Horvat. “That was a lot of fun to play with him when he was healthy. I’m just kind of looking forward to both of us getting a training camp under our belt and hitting the ground running now.”
But how will the Islanders plan to use them? When Horvat arrived, Barzal moved from center to right wing.
One would think that Barzal’s playing-making ability makes him the better fit in the middle of the ice, but he says he and Horvat don’t have to be so formulaic.
“Both of us can have the freedom to play instinctively,” said Barzal. “Obviously, he’s a beast in the circle, so he’ll take a lot of faceoffs. But I’m sure if there’s a situation where I’m in the middle, and he’s on the wall, then we’ll just roll with it. We’re both smart enough to adjust on the fly, and we’ll go from there to kind of just let our instincts take over.”
No matter how they line up, the fact that Horvat and Barzal are in a better place means reuniting should lead to good things for both themselves and the Islanders.
It did once before, and this time, there aren’t any more obstacles in their way.