After Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal faced the media as he went another game without a goal, despite a handful of chances.
“I mean, I try to score every game, every shift. So yeah, as long as the play is there and the impact is there, it’s tough to be frustrated,” Mathew Barzal said. “So yeah, just need one to fall.”
The New York Islanders, besides their three-game losing streak early on, have looked like a much stronger club. The wins have come with Mathew Barzal leading the charge. Despite no assists, Barzal has 15 assists in 15 games, and although 82 assists are unlikely, he is on pace for an 82-point season.
The last time Mathew Barzal recorded over 82 points came back in his Calder Trophy-winning season, where he notched 22 goals with 63 assists back in the 2017-18 season.
After Friday’s practice, NYI Hockey Now chatted with Mat Barzal to get more of a perspective on how he has viewed his game.
Barzal received an eight-year extension worth $73.2 million before the start of the season. Although New York Islanders general manager would not call Mat Barzal the face of the franchise because “only the logo is the face of the franchise,” there is no question that the 25-year-old centerman will be relied upon to be “that guy” for the Islanders.
And there is undoubtedly pressure that comes with that, but Barzal has stayed level-headed.
“I’m just one of the guys on the team just doing my part. So that’s really it,” Barzal said.
Barzal has never been one to bring about the spotlight on himself in the media, despite the opposite effect when he is on the ice.
The outside noise regarding Mat Barzal this season has been around him not shooting the puck nearly enough when the lane presents itself.
Although there are certainly times when Barzal could have shot the puck rather than pass it or peeled off in the offensive zone, he currently sits tied for third on the team with 40 shots on goal.
Despite missing the net five times in the loss to Arizona, Barzal shot the puck nine times. Two hit the net, two were blocked, and, as mentioned, the five misses.
So the narrative that Barzal does not shoot the puck is a misconception.
“When you guys are watching from the top, it looks like I’m in the slot, so I should shoot, but there’s guys in the lane,” Barzal said. “Sometimes I really shoot [more] than people think.”
As we have seen this season and as we saw against the Arizona Coyotes, Mat Barzal tends to cut across the slot but instead of shoot it, he throws it back against the grain to the defenseman at the point.
“I’m just taking what’s there. Like I try to play hockey. I try to make the right play every time, so if it’s a shot, it’s a shot. If it’s not, it’s not,” Barzal said.
Another outside narrative is that Barzal is not driving the net like he was earlier in the season, reverting to peeling off and hitting the high guy.
But Barzal said his decision-making in transition is pretty simple as he just takes what’s given.
“It’s just a read, just a read on the defense,” Barzal said. “If he’s got a gap, if he’s gonna give me space…just a read.”
NYI Hockey Now spoke with a few of Barzal’s teammates after Friday’s skates to get their take on how Mat Barzal has played this season and why they have confidence that the goals will eventually come for him.
“He’s been great. I mean, we’ve all seen Barzal, his progression over the years, and now he’s bringing his game to another level, and you’ve seen that, and it’s huge for our team,” New York Islanders captain and current Barzal linemate Anders Lee said. “He has the ability at any point in the game, when he’s going, to make a huge difference. So we just love to see him keep that mentality and keep attacking, and when he’s attacking, you know, get to the inside, getting those shots, those things are going to start coming in, and you try to work off of him, and find those open areas and do your best you can to support each other.”
As for the lack of goals:
“He has high expectations for himself. He’s a competitor, “Lee said. “It’s something that’s a positive. You want someone that’s going to want the puck and is going to attack and go for it and try to do things that he has with his abilities.”
“He can do a lot of different things, so I love that side of him.”
Zach Parise, who played with Barzal a bit this season, believes that Barzal’s lack of goals is too much of a story right now.
“I think he’s playing really well. He’s on pace for 82-assists. Is that not good enough?” Parise told NYI Hockey Now.
“I like the way he’s playing. He has the puck a lot. He’s given guys scoring chances every time. Yeah, I mean, if he had three goals, we’re not even talking about this right now. But he doesn’t. I’m sure it’s frustrating. He’s not showing it. But I think at the end of the day, he’s playing good hockey.”
Parise continued: “It’s not a big deal, you know what I mean? And our team is playing well, we’re winning games, and he’s going to score. He’s a great hockey player. I’m not worried about it. I just think that everyone needs to relax. He’s getting assists in every game. In my mind, that’s some pretty damn good hockey.”