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Barry Trotz: Islanders’ first line on verge of breaking out

Mathew Barzal Islanders
Mathew Barzal and the Islanders' first line showed glimpses of breaking out in Game 2 against the Bruins on Monday night.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has repeatedly said throughout his team’s current postseason run that space for playmakers is going to be at a premium. 

It’s one of the reasons why he has the veteran agitator in Leo Komarov flanking the left-wing alongside star center Mathew Barzal and right-winger Jordan Eberle in hopes that a bit more space can be opened up for two of Islanders’ best offensive talents. 

But through eight games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs — six against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round and two against the Boston Bruins — that hasn’t been the case.

Barzal has yet to score a goal in the playoffs with four points, Eberle has two goals and three helpers, and Komarov almost expectedly has just two assists. That’s not the kind of production a playoff team would want to see from their first line, especially when the Bruins’ “Perfection Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak have combined for one fewer point (10) over the first two games of the series than the Islanders’ first line has all playoffs.

Much of it has to do with the fact that Barzal is the bonafide playmaker of an Islanders team that doesn’t feature an abundance of firepower — Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said it himself on Tuesday morning after his team knotted up the series with a 4-3 overtime win the night before in Boston in Game 2.

But the trio had one of, if not their best game of the postseason on Monday night. Barzal played the patented “north-south” game that Trotz implores him to play. With that direct play, he found space to facilitate extended time in the Bruins’ zone. Both he and Eberle had four shots on the night compared to a combined three in a 5-2 Game 1 loss. 

For Trotz, the goals are right around the corner.

“You’re going to have to fight for space, they did a real good job last night,” Trotz said on Tuesday. “You just have to stay with it, it’ll come.

“They were getting chances, they were getting opportunities. They’ll find the back of the net. That’s what time and diligence will do for you… If you get frustrated by it, you’ll never find the back of the net and they’re not getting frustrated.”

They’re performance helped justify Trotz’s decision to keep the line together after questions began to arise about whether or not he should shuffle things up. Some speculate that putting a winger like Kyle Palmieri on the first line with Barzal and Eberle would generate more offense.

“You can change lines and can say ‘hey this has to change,’ or you challenge them and say ‘listen, you’re good enough to get it done, you’ve got it done all year as a group, get to your game,'” Trotz said. “That was really the response I was looking for from some of the guys.

And he got just that. 

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