EAST MEADOW — The acquisition and ensuing eight-year contract extension of star center Bo Horvat has understandably resonated in a big way throughout the New York Islanders locker room as they prepare to start the unofficial start to the second half of the 2022-23 season following the All-Star break.
“It’s a huge moment for our organization,” forward Mathew Barzal said after Horvat’s first practice with the team on Sunday. “I feel like the Islanders haven’t had a spark like this in a while. It’s huge for the organization, for me, and the guys and the room, and for our fans.”
Horvat was immediately slotted into the Islanders’ top line and power-play unit at practice — a logical and expected move considering he’s in the midst of a career year with 31 goals in 49 games. That’s 12 more goals than the Islanders’ original leading scorers in Brock Nelson and Anders Lee possess.
The first impression appears to have gone well, which is a good thing considering he’ll be an Islander for the next eight seasons.
“I thought he was extremely intelligent in a lot of different areas,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “We worked on the power play quite a bit today… So he’s looked good in the spot that he is on the power play and we’ll just continue to push forward. He’s got a lot on his plate and I would just want to use his instincts and play hockey.”
“It’s a commitment to what we want to build here. I think Bo knows that, even knowing a day, that we’re trying to build something special here. He’s going to be a key piece.”
Lambert is hoping that Horvat can provide the shot in the arm that the Islanders’ power play so desperately needs. Heading into the All-Star break, New York’s man advantage had gone 3-for-its-last-64 while the offense has scored two or fewer goals in 12 of its previous 13 games.
It’s the Achilles heel of a team that is already hanging on to thin playoff hopes. They’re two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have played three fewer games, for the final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot and three back of the Washington Capitals.
But the move made by general manager Lou Lamoriello certainly carries the right message into the locker room that there is a belief that the Islanders can make a push.
“As much as we want to win a Cup this year and every year, this just speaks to what we’re trying to do here as an organization,” Barzal said. “The core here with [Horvat] is just going to do wonders. I think we’re going to have a great eight years together. We’re all excited. This was a big spark for sure.”