Islanders fans have every right to be enamored with Mathew Barzal. The star-studded ability and excitement he brings to the game is infectious. But, and Isles fans know this well, there’s one element of his game this needs to take a turn this year: discipline.
Barzal, for all the good he does, still shows he is prone to taking unnecessary penalties.
Last year, Barzal led the Islanders in penalty minutes in the regular season with 48. Yes, he LED the team in PIMs.
Imagine someone like Nathan MacKinnon or Connor McDavid doing that? Unheard of.
Barzal being at the top of that stat-line is just unacceptable from any view point. Mind you: that amount of PIMs came in a shortened 56-game season. If it were a full 82-game slate, Barzal would have been on pace for NINETY-SIX penalty minutes! (WHAT?)
In each the three years prior, his time in the sin bin has gone up. History tells us that’s not something you want from your best player, let alone the forward who is the driver on offense. So, this trend needs to change.
Since becoming an everyday player in 2017, #Isles Mat Barzal has seen his PIM/GP increase each season:
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) September 7, 2021
The Islanders can’t afford to have Barzal in the box nearly the amount he was the previous campaign. Barzal is too good of a player to be putting himself in those kinds of situations. But again, this is something he needs realize and show when things aren’t going his way once the season begins. The latter half for his lack of discipline has at times drawn the ire of Isles head coach Barry Trotz.
“He’s leading our team in penalties right now,” Trotz said after a game in March last year. Barzal took a bad penalty in the o-zone which led to the opponent doubling the lead and eventually a 3-1 loss. “That should be Matt Martin or Casey Cizikas or someone like that. Barzy should not lead our team in penalty minutes.”
At this point of his career, Barzal should be able to keep his emotions in check. There’s no denying he is a fiery player, but to now be in the same conversation with the McDavids, MacKinnon’s, Crosbys, Auston Matthews’ of the world, it comes with a lot of attention and responsibility. Discipline needs to become a key component of his game.
Are there still going to be cheap shots and hard checks thrown Barzal’s way? Probably. A player of his ilk, that just comes with the territory. But he must not retaliate or take the unnecessary kind of fouls he has taken in the past.
That part of Barzal’s game still needs some fine tuning and hopefully will be on display this year. The expectations for he and and the team are too high for him not have more control of himself.