Mathew Barzal couldn’t help but express some exasperation Monday morning before his Islanders met the Calgary Flames at UBS Arena about the zero that inhabited the goal column of his stat line this season.
“I feel like I’m happy where my game is at. I should have four or five goals,” he said. “I had a couple empty nets, a couple breakaways. It sucks but hopefully I get off the snide here pretty soon and I can bury a couple.”
The 25-year-old center continues to be the engine that generates most of the power of the Islanders’ attack — a responsibility that is no secret given his premier playmaking abilities. So far, every other aspect of his game has met the lofty expectations of the new eight-year deal he signed just before the start of the 2022-23 campaign. He has 11 assists in his first 12 games as he continues to flirt with a point-per-game pace not seen since his rookie season.
The aggression of his offensive game in terms of shooting the puck, though, remains roughly on par with what has been seen in the last few seasons. His 32 shots rank fourth on the team this season and he’s posted at least 30 shots over his first 12 games in each of the last four years.
Despite 19 combined high and middle danger unblocked chances, which ranks second on the team behind only Zach Parise, it just hasn’t fallen for him yet.
“There’s so many chances,” Barzal said. “It’s just a matter of one going in and the gates open then.”
For now, he’ll continue to do his best to keep the frustration at bay, which isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do especially when he’s coming off a 2021-22 season in which he scored a career-low 15 goals with a career-worst 9.3% shooting percentage.
“It would grate on me a little more if we were losing hockey games because of it,” he continued. “The team’s been doing well, I feel like I’m setting up a lot of plays and I like doing that, but at the end of the day, I have to score.”
Such a concept isn’t foreign to Parise, who inhabits the locker next to Barzal’s at the Islanders’ training facilities in East Meadow. Last season, his first with the team, the 38-year-old who averaged nearly 27 goals per season from 2006-2020 didn’t score his first until his 23rd game.
“It’s hard. It’s really hard,” Parise, who has scored four times this season, said. “You take that responsibility of ‘if I just scored one there,’ you know what I mean? It gets really hard. Just mentally, you’re just dying for one to go in and you just want to see the puck cross the line. When it doesn’t, you keep telling yourself ‘I’m getting the looks, I’m getting the looks. Alright, one of these better go in soon.’
“I think that’s something that good players, you wrestle with it, and the sooner you can get out of it the better. But man, it can add up in a hurry.”
Yet the veteran winger — who started the season flanking Barzal on the team’s first line before head coach Lambert shook things up — maintains the utmost confidence in his teammate.
“He’s been playing really well. If you told him at the beginning of the season that he’d have 11 points in 11 games he’d take it,” Parise said. “We get so caught up in goals but… I’m telling you, I think this guy has been playing some great hockey. He’s had the puck on his stick so much over the last few games. The scoring chances are there, they really are. It’s going to happen.
“The way he’s playing with the puck, he’s playing great. You feel for him because it hasn’t gone in yet, but you try to reassure him that he’s playing great. That’s what we’re looking at.”