With their postseason hopes all but eliminated, the Islanders aim to use the final five weeks of the regular season to prove to management and head coach Barry Trotz that they can still be the core of a contending team next season.
And for the likes of Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom, it’s an opportunity to prove that they can co-exist on a line together.
After much hesitation throughout the season due to what was described as the unpredictability of playing with a free-skating playmaker like Barzal, Trotz has finally put the two young forwards on the same unit alongside veteran Zach Parise, who provides a more two-way, veteran presence.
The trio has played just over 58 minutes together over the last five games and while they’ve only managed one goal so far, their CF% is at a promising 59.5%, per Dobber Sports. That’s the second-highest CF% of any Islanders line that has played over 10 minutes together this season, only behind the trio of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Kieffer Bellows (60.0%).
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For much of the Islanders faithful, it’s further confirmation that the two should be a package deal moving forward. With Barzal’s ability to find open ice and set up teammates, Wahlstrom’s lethal shot could see the 21-year-old become a notable sniper in the NHL — thus padding his 24-year-old center’s stats a bit more.
“The comfort level for me is getting better. They have been dangerous,” Trotz said. “I’d like a little more production, but I’d say that about every line. They’ve been getting chances, they’ve been producing and they haven’t been giving up a lot.
Such a pair normally goes against everything the franchise has stood for under Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello. Panache and finesse are normally put on the back burner for a grind-it-out, methodical brand of hockey predicated on veteran skaters. The Islanders will grind an opponent down long before out-skilling them.
That’s why the presence of Parise — the 37-year-old winger with a new one-year extension in his back pocket — is so important to the line’s success because two-thirds of the group isn’t defensive-minded.
“My biggest fear is if it’s a chance-fest, we’re going to end on the bottom end of those a lot of times,” Trotz said. “We want to make sure it’s more in their court with chances for rather than chances against. It’s been a good marriage so far with Zach as a third ingredient.”