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Wahlstrom’s First Crack with Barzal in 2022-23: ‘There Was a Little Bit of Something There’

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New York Islanders, Oliver Wahlstrom
New York Islanders celebrating their 3-0 win over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night. (Photo via New York Islanders Twitter)

The New York Islanders may not have played a perfect game Wednesday night against the New York Rangers, but it was one of their strongest performances of the season as they shut out the New York Rangers 3-0 to snap a three-game skid.

While the play of New York Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin was the story, another major storyline was Oliver Wahlstrom getting his first chance to play with Mathew Barzal this season.

Following Tuesday’s practice, after the two took line rushes together, NYI Hockey Now spoke with Mathew Barzal about playing alongside Oliver Wahlstrom if they got the chance against the Rangers.

“I want him to play hockey. If the shot’s there, the shot’s there. If not, I want him to make a play,” Mat BarzaI said. “I don’t want him to limit himself to just being a shooter. I want him to just play hockey, play free.”

As for what head coach Lane Lambert wanted to see: “He’s a shooter. And Mat’s a possession guy, you know, with Josh Bailey there with him. He’s a distributor as well. So we just want to see more of, you know, more of Wally doing what he does best in that shooting the puck.”

But Lambert, like Barzal, did not want to just see Wahlstrom shoot. He wanted to see him continue what he was doing when he wasn’t in the offensive zone.

“He’s done a good job on the walls, getting pucks out,” Lambert said. “We talked about his limited turnovers, so there’s different areas of his game and different aspects of his game. As long as you do certain things right, things will take care of themselves.”

It may not have been a perfect night for Oliver Wahlstrom and his line, but it was a solid showing and a performance Wahlstrom and his line could undoubtedly build on going forward.

In 8:19 minutes of ice time, when this threesome was on the ice, they owned a 71.3 Corsi For Percentage, outshooting the Rangers 8-2 per Natural Stat Trick. They out-chanced the Rangers 5-4 and came through with a critical goal under six minutes into the third period to take a 2-0 lead.

Great passing led to Josh Bailey potting his first of the season from the top of the crease.

Despite the strong analytics, their 0.45 Expected Goals For is a number that New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert would certainly want elevated, as that shows how much of a threat they were last night.

Oliver Wahlstrom, at 5 on 5, in 9:42 TOI, earned three scoring chances for himself, one that was considered a high-danger chance.

But the biggest standout from Oliver Wahlstrom was not from anything analytics will show you. The eye test showed that Wahlstrom understood what he needed to do alongside Barzal and Bailey.

He got pucks deep and got in on the forecheck when he had the opportunity. He won board battles. He got pucks to the point.

At one point, along the left-side boards, he looked up and saw Scott Mayfield waiting across the way inside the blue line before making a crisp pass which led to a scoring chance on goal.

In transition, Wahlstrom may not have been fast enough to keep up with Barzal but found a way to get up the ice and make himself an option.

Despite the positives, Wahlstrom did not register a shot on goal in the contest, with shooting something he needs to do alongside two playmakers. But this chemistry, especially between Wahlstrom and Barzal, is not something that just forms overnight.

Lambert addressed Oliver Wahlstrom’s game during his postgame press conference:

“I thought he played well. I thought he battled. He was on the forecheck, on pucks,” Lambert said. “To me, it looked like there was a little bit of something there.”

As for how Wahlstrom thought he played:

“Good. I kept things simple and played an honest game. It’s awesome for Bailey to get one. Great play by Barzal,” Wahlstrom said. “A couple of bounces didn’t go our way. But you know, [we] stuck with it. And that was a great team win. You know, it’s always fun playing the Rangers, and the crowd was into it.”

Josh Bailey, who, as mentioned, scored the goal for that line, spoke on playing with Wahlstrom and Barzal.

“His game just continues to improve and improve, and he’s put in a lot of hard work,” Bailey said. “He’s been looking to get out there, and it’s fun to play with him, and he’s so dangerous at any moment.”

It will take time, and progress is what you want to see on a game-to-game basis. It was a solid first game and a game to build on as the New York Islanders now gear up to face the dominant Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.

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