The game tied late in the third period with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Barzal went 1-on-1 with defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph. With Barzal maneuvering his stick and body from the inside to the outside of the slot and coming into the Pittsburgh zone with speed, the rookie had little chance.
Barzal cut close to the net and eventually roofed his fifth goal high glove side over Casey DeSmith. You can debate the merits of Barzal versus Cizikas’s goal, but the former gave the Islanders a brief lead, which they would eventually relinquish and fall in overtime, 4-3.
“I just got a full head of steam and knew it was a 1-on-1,” Barzal said after the game. “I just tried to make a move on him. I had a similar one in the second or first period and didn’t score. Tried a similar move and was fortunate to get it up.”
BARZY gives us the LEAD pic.twitter.com/vWr4FTjXqJ
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 12, 2021
In what was the Islanders’ fifth straight game with a point, albeit with a disappointing finish, Barzal extended his point streak to seven games. Overall he’s totaled 13 points in 12 games this season, keeping with a point-per-game pace.
Barry Trotz praised Barzal’s offensive skills along with the improved defensive ones, especially when lined up against Sidney Crosby.
“I thought Barzy was really solid,” Trotz said. “He actually had a solid two-way game tonight. He was stopping on pucks, he was on the right side of people for a lot of the game. He’s playing against one of the greatest players of this generation. Says a lot about him — he did a really good job today.”
More than his flashy goal against Pittsburgh, the 23-year-old has been the primary driver of the offense since the first drop of the puck this year.
The first line center was at it again tonight, holding a 58.82 Corsi For percentage (16.72 Corsi rel percentage) during 5-on-5 situations. Adding to that, he generated five high-danger chances while on the ice for just one against. In all he had a 64.13 expected goals for percentage, and those good chances did come to fruition with the spectacular third-period strike. He had an extended shift that lasted over a minute in overtime that came with a chance as well as a shootout attempt, but he couldn’t add to his night.
The 23-year-old credited Lee with a good pass off the wall that set it up for a situation where Barzal could skate against Joseph. Barzal said after having a similar chance earlier in the game, he was happy to bury this golden opportunity.
“Sometimes you get into those spots and you want to pull up,” Barzal said of the goal, “but I put my head down and wanted to go right through [Jospeh]. I was fortunate enough to get it upstairs at the end.”
In terms of the goals, it’s not the first time this season Barzal has taken a defenseman to task before potting one into the net. On opening night at Madison Square Garden, he used his speed and stick handling to deke around now-seemingly exiled Tony DeAngelo.
Mat Barzal dangles around Tony DeAngelo and goes bardown👀 pic.twitter.com/lpUsU0bPHX
— Everything Hockey (@EHClothing) January 15, 2021
At many points this season, the Islanders have had a dearth of scoring. But Barzal has been consistent in his offensive presence, and so far he’s on pace to put up some career highs in the advanced metrics department. Through 12 games his 52.97 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 is the best of any season. The only other two with higher marks on the team are Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle, both of which have spent the bulk of the year lining up with Barzal.
And yes, it’s still a relatively small sample size and things could move in one direction or the other, but Barzal has a 62.50 high danger chances for percentage, which is about nine percentage points higher than his previous best in 2018-19.
Right now in the early part of the season, Barzal is far-and-away the team’s MVP outside of Semyon Varlamov.