The New York Islanders haven’t seen the Washington Capitals since meeting them in the first round of the 2020 NHL playoffs. That changes when the Islanders face Washington in pair of games, beginning tonight, in the Nation’s Capital.
There is a lot that the Islanders want to see repeated from that series, including the big game efforts out Mathew Barzal. In that series, which saw the Islanders advance after five games, Barzal came up big in Game 3 by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.
Mathew Barzal with endless patience and tucks it behind Holtby in OT
Islanders take a 3-0 stranglehold on the seriespic.twitter.com/7nuOv7Ic0Z
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) August 16, 2020
It’s a moment that Barzal still remembers fondly all this time later.
“That was a fun goal,” Barzal said. “Still see clips of it on social media or Twitter, and I get excited to just watch it or even think about it. It’s been a while since that happened, but I mean to look back on it, it was a pretty cool moment for me.”
But the Islanders will be facing a much-different Capitals team than the one they beat in the playoffs. There is a new coach behind the bench in Peter Laviolette and due to his team breaking COVID protocol, forwards Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov, defenseman Dimitri Orlov, and starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov will be unavailable.
The Islanders will be a bit different as well with Anthony Beauvillier potentially out of the lineup. That means it will be on Barzal to be that impact player like he was in the postseason over the summer.
Barzal has managed to be as consistent as they come whenever the Islanders square off against Washington. In 13 regular-season games, Barzal has recorded eight points and in the playoffs, he was a point per game player with four points in four games.
However, to start this season, Barzal has been anything but consistent. The same could be said about the Islanders.
Over these first five games, the Islanders have shutout their opponents twice, but have been shutout twice themselves. It has been an inconsistent start for the offense, which was the central concern heading into this season.
It’s no question who leads the Islanders’ offense, and that’s Barzal.
His offensive abilities are without question, but head coach Barry Trotz has wanted to develop more of Barzal’s game away from the puck to be a more consistent threat each night.
Through the first six games, his inconsistent play has impacted the entirety of the offense.
“They’re four-point games every time you play.”
Barry Trotz ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/rgYU2DxkR7
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 26, 2021
In the Islanders’ three wins this season, the team is averaging 3.00 goals per game. Barzal has accumulated two goals, two assists, with 10 shots on goal. To add to that, he is scoring at a 10-percent clip in 18:48 ATOI.
Against the New York Rangers on opening night, Barzal continuously moved his feet, which contributed to the number of scoring opportunities that the Islanders had that game. In the 1-0 victory over the Boston Bruins, Barzal and the rest of the offense struggled, but they found a way to come out on top.
When the puck dropped last Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, Barzal put on a show as the Islanders came away with a 4-1 victory.
Unfortunately, the Islanders have not seen the same Barzal in their two losses this year. The Islanders have not scored a goal in either of those games, which means none of the players, including Barzal, have registered any offensive statistics (except a negative plus/minus). The more noticeable issue for Barzal is that he failed to register a shot on goal in those two games.
Barzal’s inconsistency this year has dictated the success of his linemates. Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle both have three points in the wins but zero in the losses, with their play mimicking that of Barzal’s.
The Islanders will need Barzal to be a contributor, especially with the fluid situation with Beauvillier’s status.
The second line, which contributed the majority of the offense in the playoffs, has contributed zero five-on-five goals this year. Besides Pageau’s deciding goal in the 1-0 win over Boston, the third line has shown no signs of offense, and the fourth line is more of a physical energy line.
The expectation is that Barzal, and the team, will bounce back from their disappointing performance on Sunday. But to do that, Barzal will have to be the main contributor, and make his presence known from puck drop.
When the team plays the Capitals again on Thursday, the case will be the same.
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