The New York Islanders’ 6-4 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night can only be described using one word–absurdity.
There were big hits, scrums, goals, and a divided crowd. It was an entertaining sixty-minute affair between two Metropolitan foes.
What was lost in the madness was with two assists, New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal reached the 30-point mark in 28 games. Despite just three goals on the season, Barzal has been a playmaking machine with 27; the third-highest assist total in the NHL.
This season, now under the leadership of Lane Lambert, the New York Islanders have played more aggressively in all three zones. Forwards are not leaving the offensive zone as quickly, hugging the blue line boards to help keep pucks in. We are seeing an abundance of shots on a nightly basis, especially from the defenseman, who have been much more active.
Because of Lambert’s style, the Islanders are averaging 3.29 goals per game after scoring just 2.79 goals during the 2021-22 season. The Islanders have scored 92 goals this season, with Barzal getting the point on 32.6 percent of them.
After signing a massive eight-year extension worth $73.2 million before the start of the season, the Islanders needed Barzal to be the offensive weapon he’s shown to be in years past. Although he is still without a player that can bring the most out of him, production-wise, he has raised his game and has helped the Islanders mightily to their 17-11-0 record.
How much more offense is he bringing this season compared to years past?
So far, through 28 games, here’s Barzal’s individual “Per 60 minutes” stat line:
Here’s Barzal’s on-ice “Per 60 minutes” breakdown:
Everything is up so far in 2022, and that’s a strong sign for New York.
So, how much is this on Lane Lambert’s system, and how much is this on Barzal just being given the freedom to be Barzal?
The freedom seems to be the most significant thing, as Lambert has shown trust and faith in Barzal when he has the puck on his stick. He’s one of, if not the shiftiest player in today’s game, and being harnessed by a defensive style, which we saw under former head coach Barry Trotz, disallowed Barzal from playing to his full potential–it seems.
Yes, Barzal needs to be more responsible with the puck, as he is on pace for over 100 giveaways. But that means the puck is on his stick, and the Islanders are more dangerous when he is possessing.
There’s a narrative that Barzal doesn’t shoot the puck enough, and in a conversation with NYI Hockey Now a few weeks back, Barzal told us that he shoots more than we think.
Barzal is currently fourth on the Islanders in shots on goal and third amongst the forward group. His willingness to shoot more has led to more offensive chances for his teammates, but his vision and ability along the boards and below the goal line continue to be his bread and butter.
This assist to Noah Dobson back on Tuesday is the perfect example of what Barzal brings to the table:
Dobson's 8th of the year! pic.twitter.com/UyUh1eIL1J
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 7, 2022
It’s plays like that that make you wonder what Barzal could do with a scoring threat on either side of him on a nightly basis. Oliver Wahlstrom‘s two-way game has helped Barzal, as he’s not had to be the first player back but can instead serve as the high guy in the defensive zone and lead breakouts and odd-man rushes.
The 25-year-old centerman had not finished a season as a point-per-game player since his Calder-winning season of 2017-18 when he recorded 22 goals and 63 assists for 85 points in 82 games. And the Islanders finished second-to-last in the Metropolitan Division.
Since that season, Barzal’s highest assist total and point total came in 2018-19, with 44 assists and 62 points.
That Calder-winning season saw Barzal notch 63 assists. He’s on pace to finish this season with around 80, which would be a new career-high.