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Islanders minute: Crucial week ahead for injured Mathew Barzal

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Islanders Mathew Barzal
Mathew Barzal (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

All of the good work the Islanders had done over the previous three weeks took a bit of a hit over the weekend, losing back-to-back games to a pair of non-playoff teams in the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres. 

Regardless, they’re still sitting in the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with the Pittsburgh Penguins just one point behind them and having one game in hand — and they’ve done most of the heavy lifting recently without their star in Mathew Barzal by winning nine of their first 13 games since he went down with a lower-body injury on Feb. 18 against the Boston Bruins.

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The Islanders have just eight games left in their regular season with Monday night’s clash against a Metropolitan Division rival and the East’s No. 3 overall seed, the New Jersey Devils, looming. It’s the start of a particularly challenging stretch to end the year with two matchups against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a trip to Carolina to face the Metropolitan-leading Hurricanes, and another divisional tilt against the Washington Capitals dotting their next five.

Getting Barzal back within the ranks would be an enormous addition to bolster the Islanders’ playoff standings, especially because their top line has struggled mightily without him.

Islanders Kraken Bo Horvat
New York Islanders center Bo Horvat (14) celebrates with teammates Sebastian Aho (25) and Mathew Barzal (13) after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Seattle Kraken Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Bo Horvat hasn’t scored in his last 11 games. The high-scoring center was in the midst of a career year with 36 goals — five of them coming in his first 11 games with the Islanders after he was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks. 

He’s been forced to play with a rotating and ineffective combination of right-wingers, whether it’s been Pierre Engvall or Simon Holmstrom, or Josh Bailey, who had been scratched the previous four games.

“Since Barzy’s been hurt we’ve tried a number of different guys with him,” head coach Lambert said following the Islanders’ 2-0 loss on Saturday to the Sabres. “It’s been a little bit difficult but we’ll continue to try and find a way here.”

Mathew Barzal injury
New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, center, celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks with Casey Cizikas, Josh Bailey, Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov, from left, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

The quicker Barzal gets back, obviously, the better for the Islanders. The problem for them, though, is that he’s still not skating and Lambert added on Saturday that there’s “a vague idea” (h/t Ethan Sears, NY Post) of when he can. 

But for a team that is still holding out hope that he can get back into the fold before the end of the regular season, time is rapidly running out. There are just over two weeks remaining on the calendar before the playoffs begin and Barzal will likely need a handful of skates and practices to ramp back up to speed which could take up at least half of that time. 

If the Islanders don’t get him on the ice this week, he might not be able to get back until the playoffs — which is in no way clinched for them.

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For more on the Islanders and Mathew Barzal, visit AMNY.com