ELMONT, N.Y. — New York Islanders winger Mathew Barzal knows just how important the power play will be for his team’s hopes of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2023-24.
“If we get our power-play going, we’re a contender,” he said.
Tuesday night at UBS Arena provided a breakthrough for the Islanders’ power-play unit — a much-maligned special teams asset that has often derailed New York’s hopes in recent years — when Barzal scored his side’s first man-advantage goal of the season in a 1-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
“Those are the ones you sometimes need when things are tied up five-on-five where you can’t get much going,” Barzal said. “Our structure 5-on-5 is always going to be tight.”
It was the only one the Islanders cashed in out of three power plays on the night, garnering six shots in total. They’re 1-for-6 to start the season (16.7%) with the microscope strengthening its intensity every time they’re on the ice.
The Islanders have long been without a legitimate power play. For a league average that generally hovers around a 20% success rate over the last seven seasons, New York’s man advantage cashed in at just a 15.8% clip last season and went just 1-for-18 in its six-game first-round loss in the playoffs to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Islanders have had a power-play convert at a 20% clip or greater just twice in the last seven years.
“It needs to be better,” Barzal said just before the start of the season. “It just has to be. If we’re going to be in the playoffs and win, we’re going to need a good power play.”
There was no better man than Barzal, then, to get the power-play scoring started. Just seven seconds after Coyotes forward Barrett Hayton slashed the hands of Simon Holmstrom, Barzal mishit a one-timer that floated over the shoulder of Arizona goalie Karel Vajmelka and into the back of the net for the game-winner just 3:47 into the second period.
“It’s huge. We definitely had our looks and we’ve been really working on it, so it’s nice to get rewarded,” Islanders defenseman and power-play quarterback Noah Dobson said. “It bodes well for the confidence moving forward. Now we have the snide off our back. We have to build on it and keep getting better. We have to find ways in games where the power play will have to win us a game.”
The Islanders had an additional power play following Barzal’s winner and despite sustaining pressure in Arizona’s zone, they couldn’t generate a big chance until seconds after it expired; Anders Lee hitting the post on a close-range backhander.