Mathew Barzal hoping to maintain momentum, ‘eff-it’ mentality despite change on Islanders lines

Islanders Mathew Barzal
Mathew Barzal (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — On a night in which he recorded a goal and an assist during a 4-3 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, Mathew Barzal hadn’t felt this good during a game in quite some time.

“Last game is probably one of my favorite games in a couple years,” he told amNewYork on Tuesday ahead of the Islanders’ matchup with the Minnesota Wild at UBS Arena. “I just felt like I had a higher energy and I could skate for a mile so that was definitely nice.”

First came a twirling zone entry with two-and-a-half minutes in the first period off a pass from his center and linemate, Bo Horvat. Spinning down the right boards before a quick cut toward the middle of the ice and the Hurricanes’ blue line, Barzal then reached around for a forehand pass back to the wall for defenseman Noah Dobson, who streaked in on his backhand to score the game’s opening goal. 

Up 2-0 eight minutes into the second, Barzal caught the Hurricanes on a delayed offside to spark a rush beginning in the Islanders’ zone down the middle of the ice. At the Carolina blue line, he dished to his left for Horvat, who entered the zone and got to the circle before centering it back to Barzal. In a flash, he went from his backhand to his forehand to roof a wrister home for his second goal of the season.

“I felt like I was doing a lot of stuff that I’m good at like twisting and turning and creating space and doing all that stuff using my speed,” Barzal said. “The big thing for me last game was that I was hard on pucks, created some turnovers, and was good on the forecheck. When my game isn’t going well, I tend not to do that stuff as much and last game I just had an “eff it” kind of attitude.”

He then gave a nod to his teammate and Islanders fourth-line center Casey Cizikas, who is one of the team’s most tenacious forecheckers.

“I’m just going to skate as hard as I can,” Barzal said. “Get a little more Cizikas in my game.”

Mathew Barzal Islanders
New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal is cheered by teammates after he scored against the Carolina Hurricanes during an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Entering Tuesday night’s game, Barzal posted eight points in 10 games this season, flirting with a point-per-game pace despite the continuing uncertainty that has come with his line.

After the organization failed to find him a legitimate winger for four seasons, Barzal was moved from his natural position at center to the wing after Bo Horvat was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in January. The two only played seven regular-season games together before Barzal went down with an injury that kept him out until the playoffs. 

While the two have been inseparable this season, Barzal has shifted between right and left wing as the search for a consistent third member of that first line continues. Then Horvat picked up an ankle injury during the Islanders’ loss on Saturday, which made his status questionable for Tuesday night and forced Barzal to practice back at center. 

From the outside, that certainly appears to make it difficult to ride any sort of momentum, especially after a game that Barzal himself admitted was one of his best in a while.

“I’m always kind of trying to ride that momentum. I love playing with Bo… but I think I can create with anybody,” Barzal said. “I don’t know, I feel like [Horvat and I] were rolling a little bit last game so I was looking forward to just keeping that going.”

For more on Mathew Barzal and the Islanders, visit AMNY.com