Over the last few games, New York Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom has looked as good as he has all season long alongside Mathew Barzal. Despite the goals not coming, Wahlstrom was doing the dirty work along the boards and down low to help create chances for his line. He was finding space and getting his shots, but the puck was not going into the back of the net.
“For me, if I play the right way, it takes one shot. I think when Barzal’s out there, and I’m out there, for me, it’s one shot no matter if I’m quiet that game or not,” Wahlstrom told NYI Hockey Now last week. “My mindset is one shot, and it’s always been like that since I was little, so yeah, it’s fun.”
“I think [I need to] continue to attack. You know, play my game and stay patient. Just play my game and get open and take that one shot.”
That one-shot mentality came through on Friday night, as Oliver Wahlstrom refiled a shot past Blue Jackets netminder Joonas Korpisalo and in for his sixth goal of the season and first even-strength goal in 13 games.
— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) November 26, 2022
And it’s his ‘one-shot’ mentality that continues to earn him chances with Mathew Barzal.
“Barzy’s Barzy,” Wahlstrom said. “I just got to put myself in good areas, but the highlight of that goal is Holmstrom’s first point.”
In his second NHL game, his second game on the top line with Wahlstrom and Mathew Barzal, Simon Holmstrom made an essential board play to allow Barzal to start the transition, which led to the goal.
With the Islanders not bringing in an elite goal scorer to play with Barzal, the pressure was on for Wahlstrom to be that guy. He spoke about his mentality heading into this season, that he was putting no pressure on himself after the pressure certainly mounted under head coach Barry Trotz.
In 2020-21, Wahlstrom showed that he could be the legitimate sniper that the playmaking Mathew Barzal needed, as he scored 12 goals with nine assists in 44 games played as he shot at a 12.8 percent clip.
But Trotz did not play the two together as Wahlstrom still needed to learn how to play a responsible two-way game before being given a chance in a top-six role.
Wahlstrom got his chance with Barzal in the second half of last season’s nightmarish campaign, but Wahlstrom continued to struggle in Trotz’s system, leading to mid-game benchings, trips to the scratch house, and a lack of confidence.
The duo played just over 163 minutes last season, 30 games, alongside Zach Parise.
Barzal recorded one primary assist on Oliver Wahlstrom’s 13 goals that year, with Wahlstrom notching one primary assist on one of Barzal’s 15. That goal came against the New York Rangers, the third goal of a 3-0 win back on Apr. 1.
This season, first-year head coach Lane Lambert started Oliver Wahlstrom alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a player he played around 240 minutes over the years. But after six games and a handful of line changes, Lambert decided to place Wahlstrom on Barzal’s wing.
And even if the duo has not started or ended a game alongside one another, Lambert has continued to go back to the duo.
“Well, I think it just comes back to Barzal being a possession guy,” Lambert said. “We’re working on chemistry, the understanding for Wally to get himself into those areas. He’s a shooter, which we’ve talked about, but getting into those areas is going to help them have success, and we’re definitely working on it and are looking forward to it.”
Wahlstrom and Barzal have played 146 minutes together, with three different linemates in Zach Parise (32:20 TOI), Josh Bailey (69:06 TOI), and now Simon Holmstrom (18:06 TOI).
Since being paired together on Oct. 26, Wahlstrom has scored three goals (two at even strength) with two assists, while Mathew Barzal has recorded two goals (one power-play goal) 17 assists (seven on the power play). Barzal did not assist on Wahlstrom’s first even-strength goal but got the primary assist on his second on Saturday.
Barzal also notched a secondary assist on Oliver Wahlstrom’s power-play goal against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 14. Wahlstrom returned the favor on Barzal’s first goal of the season in a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Nov. 19, as his board play earned him the secondary assist.
Per Natural Stat Trick, when the two have been on the ice together this season at five-on-five (156:16), the Islanders have been outshot by a slim margin, 78-77, but have outscored their opponents 12-3. New York has had the advantage in scoring chances (78-73) but lost the high-danger battle (34-27)
Although the two haven’t connected for much this season, slowly but surely, they are becoming more dynamic of a duo.
“I think Barzal is playing some of the best hockey that I’ve seen him play, so I think he’s only going up from here and Wally too,” Zach Parise told NYI Hockey Now. “I think, while he’s really working at playing a full game, not just on the offensive side, and that’s a hard thing to learn, to play on both sides of the puck. He’s really working hard at doing that, and we all know there’s a scoring ability and shooting ability, but he’s putting in a lot of work to the other parts of his game.”