What’s becoming abundantly clear over the last few weeks has been how the offensive struggles of Mathew Barzal have impacted the New York Islanders. To paraphrase a cliche, as Barzal goes so do the Islanders.
And Barzal has gone pretty quiet offensively over his last 10 games, which included Thursday night’s loss to the Washington Capitals. The Islanders failed to crack the scoreboard after sixty-five minutes of play and Washington capitalized in the shootout to come away with the all-important win.
The Islanders played well enough to win in the first period and they failed to bury prime chances to put away their divisional rival early, especially Mathew Barzal.
The stat line showed only two shots to his name last night, but Barzal’s inability to make the most of his scoring chances played a critical role in the Islanders collecting a lone point. Even just one of those chances going in could have changed the course of the game.
“If we could have gotten a lead I think it would have given us a little spark hopefully for the second,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We know this is a good team that we’re playing and it’s going to come in waves.”
Throughout the contest, the Islanders recorded eight scoring chances when Barzal was on the ice, seven coming during even-strength, according to Natural Stat Trick. Although the expected goals for (xGF) was only 0.48, Barzal has shown he can score world-class goals this year, especially against Washington.
For reference, when Bazrzal scored three goals against Washington back on April 1 his xGF was 1.36.
He has been able to find the back of the net, regardless of the difficulty of the shot. It just hasn’t happened often enough lately.
A perfect example of just how snake-bitten Barzal has seemed lately came in late in the first period of Thursday’s loss. Barzal was coming out of the penalty box and found himself on a breakaway with a chance to put the Islanders in front.
Barzal’s attempt was denied by netminder Ilya Samsonov and the rebound came right back to Barzal, but Samsonov got his pad on the follow-up as well.
Those were Barzal’s only two registered shots of the game.
In the second and third periods, the Islanders were in survival mode as Washington dominated the pace of play. While the scoring chances after the first twenty were few and far between, Barzal seemed to have the game on his stick with less than five minutes to go in the regulation. The 23-year old made an impressive deke towards the goal but lost his balance and fired the puck over the net.
So close, but yet so far.
Besides the chances that went by the waist side, Mathew Barzal did not look like himself. He was very hesitant in the offensive zone, appearing to overthink a lot of his game.
What has made Barzal so dangerous is that he is able to make those quick plays with his skating for on-ice vision to create time and space for his linemates. However, when he had a shooting lane the Islanders star was hesitant to put the puck on the net.
The issue was magnified on the power play when he received a one-time pass but opted not to shoot the puck. In overtime, Barzal logged 2:22 but failed to create anything for himself or his teammates.
The lack of scoring for Barzal has been nothing new. He has failed to record a goal over his last 10 games, with only five assists to his name over that span. Over his last 20 games, he has lit the lamp a total of three times.
Even when the Islanders buried six goals against the cross-town rival New York Rangers on Tuesday, Barzal did not play a role.
During that 10 game stretch when Barzal was on the ice, the Islanders accumulated 48 high danger chances, resulting in five goals. None of them were scored by Barzal.
It is relatively easy to point fingers at his linemates, whether it had been Leo Komarov after Anders Lee went down or Travis Zajac post-deadline. But as we saw last night and in previous games, Barzal has been getting prime scoring chances regardless of who plays alongside him.
Could it be the frustration of not having a suitable scoring linemate to his left? How about the abuse he has received without penalties often this season? That seems to be the million-dollar question, but right now there doesn’t seem to be an answer.
The Islanders have only scored seven goals over their last five games (1.40 GF/GP), including their six-goal effort on Tuesday.
With their current position in the standings, third place in the East, the Islanders need to start coming through, or it will be a tough battle to finish the season in a top-two spot and garner a much-needed home-ice advantage.
Mathew Barzal does not deserve all the blame for the struggles, but he must pick it up offensively before the postseason begins.