If this past weekend was any indication of what Mathew Barzal has up his sleeve for the playoffs, then the New York Islanders might have another edge heading into their qualifying round series.
Barzal, who was a part of the Isles’ blue squad for Sunday’s scrimmage, recorded a hat trick as his team was victorious 4-3. It marked his best day of camp since the team returned for Phase 3 last Monday. But Sunday’s performance wasn’t the only one signifying Barzal is on his game and ready to do some serious damage.
The Islanders’ top center recorded a goal in each of the three scrimmages organized by head coach Barry Trotz last week.
“It’s been exciting to get back,” Barzal told a group of reporters via Zoom over the weekend.
Before the season was stopped due to the coronavirus outbreak, Barzal was carrying an Islander club who was hit hard by injuries to key guys and was struggling to cling to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. For much of February into early March, Trotz leaned on Barzal and his linemates — Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee — to do most of the heavy lifting as the rest of the offense was nonexistent. Barzal responded in a big way, posting 11 points in the final nine games of what is now the regular season. He was getting hot at just the right time and was rising to the occasion as each game loomed larger.
So now with four months of rest, hopefully, Barzal picks up right where he left off.
“Personally and individually, I got two good months of training in,” Barzal said. “I was able to get on the ice a lot. Physically, I feel good. I feel strong. After 82 games sometimes you can feel a little worn out especially with that last 15-20 games being super intense like the playoffs. For us to come in, clean slate, full energy, fully healthy, it helps us and personally I think it helps myself.”
A motivated #13 means he’s scoring goals again and plays like that dynamic force we’ve come to know, one who can change a game in an instant. Barzal’s last tally of the regular season on March 5th in Ottawa — a 4-3 defeat — was just his third in 23 games. For an Islander team who struggles enough on its own to generate offense as constructed, Barzal failing to convert on his chances is something they couldn’t afford then and can’t afford now. Facing a club who sports a lot of firepower like the Florida Panthers — who is their opponent in the qualifying round — the Islanders are going to need all of their forwards to step up, starting with Barzal.
We know he is going to draw the most attention from the Panthers’ D and will most likely see a good amount of Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle a majority of the time. But Barzal has shown he’s up to the challenge. In the postseason a year ago, he elevated his game against the likes of Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang which helped the Isles sweep the series in four games. Barzal also showed the same mentality against Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton in the second round, even in defeat.
The Islanders will be off to Toronto later this week. They’ll have one more game to psyche themselves up before they take the ice next Saturday afternoon for game one. And from what we’ve heard and witnessed through camp, they’ll have a highly-determined Mathew Barzal leading the way.
It’s exactly what the Isles need and what could help them go on a deep playoff run.