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New York Islanders

Islanders Mailbag: Not Better Without Barzal, 11 Games to Go



New York Islanders Mathew Barzal (Photo via New York Islanders Twitter)
New York Islanders Mathew Barzal (Photo via New York Islanders Twitter)

The New York Islanders did their job in California. They took two out of three games, their two wins coming against NHL bottom feeders. With the 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night, the Islanders hopped the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top wild-card spot in the East.

The Penguins are two points back of the Islanders with two games in hand.

Since the All-Star break, the Islanders are 11-5-3.

Since Mathew Barzal went down with an injury, the Islanders are 8-3-1, with a 6-3-1 record over their last 10 games.

With 11 games to go, the Islanders are in a three-team wild-card race, as the Florida Panthers are very much a threat, trailing the Islanders by a point with two fewer games played.

Let’s get to your questions and comments in the latest mailbag:

What is the Islanders record when Bailey is scratched? (@Michael_Klinck)

Saturday night marked the sixth time this season that Josh Bailey served as a healthy scratch. He’s missed 10 games total, but four due to injury. While a scratch, the Islanders are 3-2-0. With him out of the lineup, they are 5-5-0.

I did not think scratching him for the game that would have been his 1,000th against the New York Rangers was right, but I’m not the head coach. I also thought that scratching him against the Nashville Predators in mid-November against a physical team may have been the wrong choice, but hindsight is 20/20.

Fasching is 2nd on the team with 6pts in 7 March games (behind only Palmieri) and leads the team at +7 over that span. Is now the best time to sign him? (@PatMunger)

I’m a big fan of Hudson Fasching as a player and as a person. He’s been the biggest surprise for the New York Islanders in terms of free-agent signings and may be one of the biggest surprises league-wide. I wrote a story recently about how Fasching would 100 percent sign an extension.

Hudson Fasching ‘100 Percent’ Interested in Contract Extension With Islanders

We all know how Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello works, so it’s very possible that Fasching already has a deal in place, or at the very least, the conversations have started. I don’t think his play right now means he needs to be signed now.

What’s up with Barzal – Is he out ’till September? (@ErnestoForero5)

When we know something about Mathew Barzal, you will know. There’s always secrecy around injuries, and as I write this today, Barzal has not skated for 28 days (that we know of), 12 games. He’s listed as week-to-week, and there is no update on his status.

The last time we saw him at a practice, watching from above and walking around, he had no limp, so take that as you may.

Mathew Barzal Attends Islanders Practice, Watches From Stands

Better without Barzal? (@JmNyc780)

It’s become a common question or point of conversation since the Islanders have played better in his absence, but in no way, shape, or form are they better without Mathew Barzal.

The reason the Islanders may look better is because they realized that without Barzal, they need to get back to basics, and now they are playing that defensive style that they played under Trotz.

Per Kevin Kurz of The Athletic, the Islanders’ power play was operating at a 10.7 percent clip since Barzal went down. They went one-for-five in the win on Saturday. Lambert has cycled players on the top line in his absence, with no one taking the chance and running with it.

Barzal returning before the postseason is not only a want for New York, but if they are going to do any damage in the playoffs, if they get there, he will have to play a critical part.

When Barzal is back, you have to slide Holmstrom to 4th line for Cal, right? (@Islesfanaz)

Well, that honestly depends if the Islanders view Simon Holmstrom as a fourth-line player. For as much as Cal Clutterbuck does look a bit out of place since returning, despite a strong game against the Sharks, he does know how to play postseason hockey, and there’s comfortability there.

Holmstrom has seven hits in 42 games.

Was splitting up Pelech and Pulock a big reason for more defensive stability? (@wings_prince)

Not only was separating Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock a big reason for more defensive stability, it was the biggest reason. Ideally, the Islanders would have liked Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov to have clicked, with two strong defense pairings and a solid one in Sebastian Aho and Scott Mayfield, but that wasn’t reality.

Since Romanov got paired with Pulock, he’s been tremendous for the Islanders and has shown why Lamoriello traded his 13th overall pick this past summer for him. Mayfield has raised his game alongside Pelech, and with that, the Islanders are back to playing that defensive game that got them to back-to-back semi-finals.

When is Horvat going to regain his scoring touch? (@prodl)

There’s no question that Bo Horvat is still finding his offensive groove with the New York Islanders. Despite five shots on goal on Saturday night, and five scoring chances, the 27-year-old has just one goal over his last nine games. We knew there would be an offensive drop-off after he left the Vancouver Canucks, but they do need him to start scoring.

However, without Barzal or any stable winger, that does make his life a bit harder. And while many will worry about his offense, the main reason he is here, he single-handedly saved the Islanders’ season as he took on Jean-Gabrieil Pageau’s assignment, specifically in the face-off dot, while he was out hurt. Horvat also played on the power play and the penalty kill.

Islanders Bo Horvat: From Added Boost to Playoff Savior

If Aho missed time, assuming Worherspoon jumps in. It’s a shame because Aho has really been improving. (@coniem5)

Sebastian Aho has had a weird season, with a slow start and a solid middle, and now is teetering between strong and underwhelming performances but has used his speed effectively with and without the puck.

He took a blindsided hit in the first period against the Sharks and did not return, as we will likely get an update on Monday after practice if he isn’t out there. If he cannot play Tuesday, it could be Parker Wotherspoon, who has been patiently waiting to play since Jan. 21, but we could see Samuel Bolduc recalled.