Brock Nelson

Getty

A deeper look at Islanders’ decision to bench Barzal

15 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

How does a player go from having his third five-point night of the season on Friday to being benched late in a close game on Sunday? Well, just ask the New York Islanders.

Mathew Barzal, who has 16 goals and 59 points in 57 games this season, was sat down late in New York’s 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames because he “was playing a little bit soft, not soft, but slow. A big part of my game is just playing down low and battles and winning that kind of stuff. So I wasn’t doing that [Sunday],” Barzal told Newsday.

Over 82 games, every player is bound to have a rough night, so it’s hard to blame the 20-year-old, especially after he registered five assists in an overtime win over Detroit just two days before the benching.

But who is head coach Doug Weight really punishing here? Sure, Barzal is affected by the decision, but how about the rest of the team? The Isles are far from locked into a playoff spot (they’re currently one point behind the Devils and Hurricanes for Wild Card spots) and not having Barzal on the ice late in a one-goal game is a questionable decision. The Islanders will need every point they can down the stretch, so missing out on two points on home ice is huge.

“It’s who’s going to score for us,” Weight said. “So (Barzal) just threw the puck away three times on the last power play, and we had meetings between periods showing him what’s going on and what we have to exploit.

“So that’s not a teaching tool. That’s not a young guy, we’re going to really teach him a lesson; he’s going to be a pro for 20 years.”

Sure, Weight had capable offensive threats like John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey at his disposal when his team was down one goal with 1:05 remaining, so it’s not like they had to throw someone with no offensive pedigree out there. Still, sending a message to one your top two players in that situation is a little bizarre.

The rookie still played a respectable 17:44 at even-strength and he got almost five minutes of power play time, but when the chips were down, he wasn’t on the ice. He had just one shift in the last 6:40 of the game (score was tied 2-2 during most of that stretch) and he didn’t get back on the ice when his team went down 3-2.

By comparison, Brock Nelson, who had a hat trick on Friday night, got three shifts in the last 5:32 of the game. This isn’t meant as a shot to Nelson because he’s been very productive of late, but he finished the night with a minus-1 rating and no shots on goal.

Weight’s team might have multiple offensive weapons, but not many players in the league can change a game in a split-second like Barzal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Islanders power way to weird win vs. Red Wings

7 Comments

Halfway through the third period of Friday’s game, the New York Islanders were down 5-2 to the Detroit Red Wings. It was a familiar situation: despite having two star centers in Mathew Barzal and John Tavares, an atrocious defense and struggling goalies were on the way to dooming the team.

Then Tyler Bertuzzi was whistled for a five-minute major, and the good part of this team took over.

In a ridiculous stretch you can witness in the video above this post’s headline, the Islanders scored an absurd four goals during that five-minute major advantage. With that, the Isles went up 6-5 … and even that wasn’t enough.

Despite ending with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, the Islanders’ defense buckled once more to allow the tying goal. Brock Nelson‘s hat trick goal was the 7-6 overtime game-winner in a truly baffling display of, essentially, all that’s gone well and poorly for this confusing team this season.

Also confusing: the Bertuzzi situation itself.

As you can see, Cal Clutterbuck drew the penalty on Bertuzzi … and he didn’t make any friends in the process.

Bertuzzi expressed his regrets for slashing Clutterbuck, even though he didn’t think it should be a major.

As the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James reports, Bertuzzi’s teammates agree.

Pretty zany stuff, right down to the game being sent to overtime after all of that. Oh yeah, there was also this odd fight:

Beyond the drama surrounding Clutterbuck and Bertuzzi, this night stands as a lucky win for the Islanders, even if it’s hardly an example of them cleaning up problems that have been plaguing them all season.

And those issues have been especially rough lately, particularly when Thomas Greiss has been in net instead of Jaroslav Halak. The Isles’ goalies have been bad far too often, yet it’s not just on them, as the defense has been porous. Coming into Friday, the Islanders were allowing an NHL-worst 35.3 shots against per game, four more than the 31.2 they’re producing. So it’s not merely about this being “live by the sword, die by the sword.” There’s clearly a balance issue for the Isles.

How much of it is on Doug Weight, the personnel, or the goalies? It’s tough to put a percentage on each concern, but you wonder if management is cringing at all of this, especially with Tavares’ future hanging in the balance.

The Islanders are a mess. At least on nights like these, they’re a fun mess.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: New York Islanders at Montreal Canadiens

Getty Images

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Anders LeeJohn Tavares – Alain Quine
Anthony BeauvillierMathew BarzalJordan Eberle
Michael Dal Colle – Brock NelsonShane Prince
Jason Chimera – Tanner Fritz – Cal Clutterbuck

Nick LeddyScott Mayfield
Adam PelechSebastian Aho
Thomas HickeyRyan Pulock

Starting goalie: Thomas Greiss

PREVIEW FOR ISLANDERS-CANADIENS

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Alex GalchenyukJonathan DrouinDaniel Carr
Max PaciorettyPaul ByronCharles Hudon
Artturi LehkonenTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher
Nicolas DeslauriersByron Froese – Jacob De La Rose

Karl AlznerJeff Petry
Jordie BennJakub Jerabek
Victor Mete – David Schlemko

Starting goalie: Cary Price

Video: Blues’ Bortuzzo fined for cross checking Islanders’ Nelson

6 Comments

Robert Bortuzzo has been fined for a trio of cross checks he threw on Brock Nelson during Monday’s game between the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues.

The incident occurred during the second period, when Bortuzzo, the Blues defenseman, took exception to Nelson colliding with Magnus Paajarvi away from the puck, and delivered three cross checks to the Islanders forward.

The first knocked Nelson to the ice. Bortuzzo then delivered two more to the back of Nelson while he was down on the ice, earning two penalties on the play.

Following the game, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced it had fined Bortuzzo $3,091.40.

Report: Islanders convince Vegas to take Berube in expansion draft

Getty
7 Comments

The New York Islanders contorted their roster to keep three goalies around so they could keep Jean-Francois Berube. If reports end up being accurate, they’ve now expended similar energy to get him to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

Newsday’s Arthur Staple backs up a report from TSN’s Bob McKenzie that the Islanders paid a fee to get Vegas to take Berube instead of a host of other valuable players, including Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, and Calvin de Haan.

The specifics of the “ransom” are in doubt, though it sounds like the Islanders’ first-rounder (15th overall in 2017) could be part of a package that also includes Mikhail Grabovski‘s contract.

Staple reports that there might be a little bit more to the swap, however.

Either way, it’s a relief for an Islanders team that seemingly exposed some serious talent. It’s also a strangely fitting end to the odd story of Berube with this franchise.

Berube, 25, struggled with the Islanders but showed promise at the AHL level. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from here, particularly if the Golden Knights end up with more goalies than they can wheel and deal.