EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — There is a misconception surrounding New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal’s game.
The seven-year pro, who played his first full regular-season game at left wing during Saturday night’s season-opening 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, has often found himself running into the notion that he’s too passive at times — that he’d rather dish to his teammates than send the puck toward the net.
“People think it’s just easy to walk down and shoot and just get shots all the time,” Barzal told amNewYork. “But I have a guy or two on me all the time. I’ve had that for my whole life. So when you’re played hard, it’s hard to get shots off. You have to use your linemates.”
But Barzal’s first game flanking center Bo Horvat on the left with Simon Holmstrom on the right resulted in six shot attempts for the 26-year-old. Three of those attempts were on net while he helped Horvat fire eight shots on goal, though they couldn’t find the back of the net in the win.
“We had some good chances, some good looks,” Barzal said. “Bo had eight shots. If he keeps getting his shots, he’s going to score. I should’ve had one, Holmer should’ve had one.”
Offensive aggression in Barzal’s game is only going to make the Islanders’ first line all the more dangerous, even with Holmstrom trying to find his footing in the pros. In the process, it will only further help dispel the notion that has followed him in recent years.
Last season, Barzal averaged 4.4 shot attempts per game (254 attempts in 58 games) — a full shot higher than his 2021-22 average of 3.4 (252 in 73 games) and noticeably higher than his average of 3.7 attempts per game over his first five full NHL seasons.
A continuation of a six-shot-attempt-per-game pace would obviously shatter any career-high for him, but it’s certainly a lofty number. After all, Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid has averaged 5.4 shot attempts per game throughout his future Hall-of-Fame career.
“It’s more just playing the game and trying to take the right shots,” Barzal said. “If I have a lane, shoot. I feel like it’s been like that for a while. Maybe early on, I was trying to pass all the time, but I feel like the last couple of years, I’ve been looking to shoot.”