New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert maintained the hope that his team can get star forward Mathew Barzal back in the fold by the end of the 2022-23 regular season.
“The hope is there,” Lambert said on Tuesday morning prior to the Islanders’ meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The game at UBS Arena will be the 13th consecutive game that Barzal misses after suffering a lower-body injury against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 18. That leaves just 10 games to go in the regular season — meaning a return to the ice for practice would have to come within the next week.
Lambert said on Monday that Barzal is still not skating.
Despite his absence, the Islanders have done more than just stay afloat. Entering Tuesday night’s game they were 8-3-1 without Barzal and were holding onto the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“You don’t want to lose a guy like Barzy, no matter the situation, especially for a long stretch,” veteran center Brock Nelson told amNewYork. “Everyone has kind of stepped up collectively as a group and knowing that you might have to go about it a little different or things are going to look a little different.
“But I think everyone has the belief that we’re able to get the job done given the nature of last year when we had quite a few guys injured.”
Nelson has certainly helped keep the Islanders’ attack in shape without the playmaking extraordinaire that Barzal is. He had six goals in his last 12 games, Kyle Palmieri has three goals and eight points in his last seven outings, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau has four points in his last three games.
Those contributions from outside Barzal’s usual first one have been invaluable given Bo Horvat has struggled to find the net without his linemate. He hadn’t scored in eight straight games entering Tuesday night and had just two goals in 12 without Barzal.