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Barzal named NHL’s first star as Islanders prep for clash vs. Capitals

Mathew Barzal Islanders
Islanders center Mathew Barzal
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

New York Islanders star center Mathew Barzal was named the NHL’s first star of the week after posting three goals and four assists (seven points) and a shootout-deciding goal in three games last week, helping the Islanders keep pace with the Washington Capitals atop the Eastern Division.

“I wouldn’t say that I dwell on it for a bit, but it’s nice to be recognized for having a good week,” Barzal, who received such an honor for the first time in his career, said. “Every week I get to see on Instagram or Twitter the three stars and highlights. I haven’t been the first star in my career but it’s pretty cool. Nothing crazy, but it’s a nice feather in the cap.”

That was as far as the Islanders’ star would dwell on his individual accomplishment as his side prepared for a Tuesday-night tilt (7 p.m. ET) against the division-leading Capitals. 

A win would draw the Islanders level for first place while keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins — who are nipping at New York’s heels — at bay for just a while longer. 

“It’s good competition,” Barzal said. “You get these little segments in the year where you’re fighting for certain positions and you play the team you’re fighting for that position with… Just two good teams going at it for first place and I’m sure it’ll be another good game.”

One of Barzal’s highlight-reel-worthy goals during his big week came on Thursday night in an 8-4 Islanders win; the 23-year-old taking on four defenders in a coast-to-coast rush before finishing a searing wrister into the back of the net. 

It’s a reminder of just how good the All-Star can be — but the circumstances weren’t necessarily ideal for an Islanders team whose foundation is steeped in defensive hockey.

“We’re not a team that necessarily thrives on games like that,” Barzal said of the 12-goal thriller. “But when we do get into a situation like that, as much as [head coach Barry Trotz] is having a mini-heart attack, it’s just good hockey.

“Sometimes in a shootout, you just have to win it. [Trotz] kind of just lets us play while during the intermission, try to find ways to shut them down defensively.”

While Trotz undoubtedly wants to reel things in a bit compared to last week’s matchup against his former team, Tuesday night’s upcoming game is another opportunity to relish.

“If you have the competitive spirit, these games are fun,” Trotz, who won a Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018, said. “They have a competitive pedigree and it helps our pedigree as well. A lot of guys over there have won a Cup over there and we want to be in that position as well.

“It’s good to play meaningful games… There’s meaning because we’re trying to catch them and they’ve been on a heater like we have… We’re battling it out. It’s very enjoyable.”

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