EAST MEADOW — For once this season, things are falling into place at the right time for Bo Horvat, whose career year hasn’t been anywhere near easy.
After scoring 31 goals in 49 games for a dysfunctional Vancouver Canucks team that descended more into the throes of chaos, the 27-year-old was traded during the All-Star break in late January to a New York Islanders team desperate for a goal-scoring boost.
Paired with New York’s star playmaker in Mathew Barzal — who had to deal with a carousel of ineffective first-linemates for the majority of his six seasons in the NHL — it appeared that continuity was finally secure for Horvat. He scored three goals in his first six games as the Islanders’ first-line center.
But then Barzal got hurt. A lower-body injury suffered during a Feb. 18 game against the Boston Bruins kept him out for the remainder of the regular season, leaving Horvat with a rotating cast of right-wingers who under normal circumstances would never be considered first-line options.
He scored just four goals in the final 24 games of the regular season, yet the Islanders still managed to sneak into the playoffs where they now will have Barzal back and ready for Game 1 in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It’s been a crazy year from having what was going on in Vancouver to getting traded and then coming here and then the injuries and stuff so it’s been a lot,” Horvat said. “At the same time, it’s made me a better player now having to deal with adversity and having to deal with different things along the way.
“You always try to embrace those challenges that whatever gets thrown your way, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do all year.”
In no way is Horvat or the Islanders out of the woods despite the good news regarding Barzal. The two will have to get back into a groove on the fly amidst the intensity that comes with the Stanley Cup Playoffs after just three practices together.
The first linemates had been in constant contact after each game to talk about future strategies when Barzal — who watched games from the press box — ultimately would return, which the pair see as better than nothing.
“It’s tough when you’re obviously not playing with each other. He’s watching from up top so just talking, I think, honestly might have been a good thing,” Horvat said. “He was up there watching my game a little bit to see my tendencies. I know his tendencies. He likes to have the puck and to be on the perimeter and try to find guys. So for me, I have to be open and make sure I’m getting into those scoring opportunities for him to find me.
“We seemed to be doing a good job of that in the beginning, so if we can rekindle that for Monday, that’d be nice.”