New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz admitted that there still is no timetable regarding the return of first-line center Mathew Barzal, who is dealing with a lower-body injury that sidelined him on Feb. 26 against the Los Angeles Kings.
“They do the rehab and go on the ice by themselves and when they join us, then they’ll do that,” Trotz said of Barzal and injured veteran defenseman, Zdeno Chara. “They’re in different phases of that.”
Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche is the fifth consecutive game that Barzal is missing — a sizable loss for a team whose playoff hopes are dangling by the slightest of threads.
Barzal is the Islanders’ leading point man and No. 1 playmaker, accruing 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) in 45 games this season.
Despite his absence, New York has fared well enough, splitting the first four games without him including a 2-1 victory over the Central Division’s No. 2 seed, the St. Louis Blues, on Saturday.
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Trotz’s men have been forced to play more of a direct game — or “north, south” as he likes to call it — with Barzal out of the fold. Those are just the natural adjustments that have to be made when one of the league’s most dynamic skaters isn’t at your disposal.
“Mat likes to have the puck and he’ll dance around and he controls the puck more than our other centermen,” Trotz said. “With Mat, you have to look to get open. He might not get you the puck every time you expect it, but he’ll get you the puck eventually. With other centermen, you’re a little more straight-line… it is probably a little different for the wingers playing with [Brock Nelson] or [JG] Pageau or Casey [Cizikas] just because Mat controls the puck. He has such good edges. He wants to use his edges to get separation and he does.”
Islanders captain Anders Lee, who normally flanks Barzal on the left-wing, has been seeing time on the third line with Zach Parise, who plays a much more direct, gritty style.
“You’re getting pucks in different positions,” Lee said. “That’s definitely a little part of it for sure. The game is different in that regard. With Barzy, you try to find yourself getting open a lot. With other guys, you’re a part of it in different ways.”