Islanders will need Game 4 Barzal at all times in First Round vs. Capitals

Mathew Barzal
Mathew Barzal (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The New York Islanders’ offense goes as its star center, Mathew Barzal does. That’s usually been the case over the past two seasons at least under Barry Trotz.

It’s the risk that comes with playing an overly-defensive style of hockey, which has shown to frustrate opponents. However, the offense and power play have taken collateral damage because of it, and the Islanders’ attack has been one of the weaker units in the Eastern Conference during that stretch.

Still, this is one of the most successful two-year spans the team has experienced in three decades, which is a testament to the work that Trotz has done behind the bench in New York.

But following their Stanley Cup Qualifiers victory over the Florida Panthers last week, the Islanders are set to meet the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round (quarterfinals) — and they’ll need a bit more consistency from Barzal and his first-linemates, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle.

Barzal was practically a no-show over the first three games of the series with just one point before coming alive in the clinching Game 4 against the Panthers with a goal and an assist. He attributed the slow start to shaking off the proverbial rust of a five-month layoff due to the coronavirus.

“I had to adapt and almost forgot how to score and get to the net and how hard guys play you in the corners,” Barzal said after that performance last week. “It took me a game or two just to get that touch and feel back. I feel like I found it a bit.”

Ahead of Game 1 against the Capitals on Wednesday (3 p.m. ET, MSG+), the 23-year-old is going to try and keep things simple.

“I think we got in trouble when I was trying to do too much through the neutral zone,” Barzal told reporters via Zoom. “Sometimes I forget throughout the playoffs that other teams are watching a lot of video and finding tendencies in our game, too.”

“Once we started to just keep it simple and started playing to each other’s strengths, and I trusted them a little bit more, giving [Anders Lee] pucks down low and making him work. His game down there, I think, it really opened our line up. So we’re just going to have to continue to do that.”

It’s the kind of Mathew Barzal that Trotz wants to see moving forward, especially when he’ll be sharing the spotlight with the likes of the legendary Alexander Ovechkin.

“I’ll take his mindset that he had in Game 4,” Trotz said. “He was using his speed, he wasn’t wasting energy trying to do everything himself. He was being efficient, he was being fast and he had the puck more and he was way more dangerous. I think as he’s learned that the playoffs there’s not much room, sometimes you have to give it up, you don’t have to do it yourself. I think he realizes that.”