Mathew Barzal

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Islanders grab back-to-back, unlikely shutouts

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As the NHL’s worst team when it comes to stats like shots allowed and high-danger chances given up, it would be pretty silly to pin all of the New York Islanders’ woes on their goalies.

Still, there’s a cut-off where you have to expect a certain level of competence even behind a faulty defense. Jaroslav Halak and especially Thomas Greiss have been part of the problem for much of 2017-18, but with the fan angst at a fever pitch to the point of generating money to buy “Snow Must Go” billboards, the Isles’ two goalies are doing the former-backup-turned-GM some serious favors.

On Thursday, the Islanders were bombarded with 50 shots on goal, yet Halak pitched a shutout against the New York Rangers on the way to a 3-0 win.

Tonight, Islanders coach Doug Weight gambled on putting Greiss in net instead of “riding the hot hand,” and instead rode the hot duo. The Islanders beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 as well, even though Carolina nearly doubled them in shots on goal (45-23).

So, in a back-to-back set against Metropolitan Division rivals also fighting desperately for playoff positioning – albeit one also eyeing a possible rebuild at the same time – the Islanders suffered a 95-58 shots on goal disparity, yet won by a combined score of 6-0.

No doubt about it, these consecutive wins do little to quiet the argument that this team is really struggling to limit scoring chances. It’s fair to wonder about Weight, Snow, and others, even with these victories.

Still, a more confident goalie tandem could really move the needle.

Halak had already been showing some signs of improvement. He’s been heating up since the All-Star Break ended, in particular, with a .925 save percentage over the last eight games. The veteran goalie went on an impressive (if too-little, too-late) last season, so it’s possible that Halak might turn things around once again.

Greiss almost certainly needed his shutout more, though.

The 32-year-old carried a hideous .885 save percentage into this game. For a goalie with a respectable .912 career save percentage and no full season under .908,* it’s been a bewilderingly bad run for the German.

If Halak and Greiss could merely steal some wins here and there, the Islanders could turn their attention to adding a little bit of talent on defense, where they’re clearly ailing. Some injuries have made things more difficult, so improving in that area and getting better goaltending could make the difference in a postseason run versus another gut-punching finish.

Actually, considering the terrifying one-two punch on offense in John Tavares and Mathew Barzal, the Islanders could go from dour to downright scary if they merely become competitive in their own end.

* – Technically, he suffered an .860 save percentage with San Jose in 2007-08, but that was in just three games.

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.

The Buzzer: Halak stops 50 in shutout

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Players of the Night:

Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders: The New York Rangers kept coming. And coming. And coming. The Blueshirts put up 50 shots on Halak, but the veteran netminder shut the door on each and every one of them in a heroic shutout effort.

Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals: Ovie had a four-point game, scoring his league-leading 34th goal (his 592nd in his career) and helping out on three others, including both of Wilson’s goals. Wilson also added an assist for a three-point night. Add in Nicklas Backstrom‘s goal and assist and the Capitals top line had a nine-point night.

Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders: Barzal was instrumental in setting up all three Islanders goals. Furthermore, the rookie put himself in some elite company with his 60th, 61st and 62nd point of the season.

Marian Gaborik, Ottawa Senators and Dion Phaneuf, Los Angeles Kings: Both players made their debuts for their new teams after they were traded for each (and a couple other pieces) on Tuesday. Both ended up scoring a goal for their respective new teams.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Stopped 43 of 44 to help the Sharks get back to winning ways.

Highlights of the Night: 

Kucherov makes them all stand still:

Poor Henrik Lundqvist:

Matt Murray sprawlin’:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Penguins 3, Kings 1

Islanders 3, Rangers 0

Devils 5, Hurricanes 2

Senators 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Lightning 4, Red Wings 1

Capitals 5, Wild 2

Flames 4, Predators 3

Ducks 3, Blackhawks 2

Coyotes 5, Canadiens 2

Golden Knights 4, Oilers 1

Sharks 4, Canucks 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Mathew Barzal chases down Trottier, Bossy

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Mathew Barzal set another milestone on Thursday, and by doing so, put his name in the same realm as a couple New York Islanders legends.

The rookie forward has a long way to go before he achieves legendary Islanders status Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, but he took one step (of several this season) toward that mark with his 60th point.

Barzal’s assist on Josh Bailey’s snipe on the power play in the first period against the New York Rangers, passing David Volek’s 59 points during the 1988-89 season and putting Barzal alone in third place for most points by and Islanders rookie.

Barzal now leads Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser by 11 points in the rookie scoring race (with Boeser set to play later on Thursday).

Catching Trottier’s 95 points won’t come easy, if it’s possible at all. Barzal currently has 60 points in 59 games, which would see him finish in the mid-80s.

Obviously, that wouldn’t be anything to balk at, but he’ll need a few more five-point nights to get him on Trottier’s pace. Trottier had 95 in 80 games, for what it’s worth.

Bossy, who sits in second, finished with 91 in 73 games.

UPDATE No. 1: Barzal has another assist and point No. 61.

UPDATE No. 2: Barzal has a hat trick of assists and his 62nd point.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

A deeper look at Islanders’ decision to bench Barzal

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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.

Can Barzal, Tavares overcome Islanders’ putrid defense?

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Plenty of NHL teams would kill to have centers like Mathew Barzal or John Tavares on their roster, particularly when they carry a combined cap hit under $6.5 million.

That’s part of what makes the New York Islanders frustrating, then: they have both, along with some other quality players, and yet they find themselves sitting right outside the East playoff picture at the moment.

Why? Well, it’s because they’re basically as bad at stopping people from scoring on them as they are at generating offense. They’re currently at a -17 goal differential for this season, so honestly, they might be lucky to be where they are today.

It would be convenient if you could just blame everything on their goalies Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, and there’s no denying that they are part of the problem. Halak’s numbers are mediocre (.908 save percentage) while Greiss has been abysmal (.885 save percentage, which is almost unthinkable for a well-paid goalie in 2017-18). Unfortunately, plugging in a better goalie might just shine a light on how terrible this team’s defense has been.

In seven of their last eight games, the Islanders have allowed at least 39 shots on goal and they’ve been out-shot in seven of eight as well; the only exception came when they outshot Buffalo 29-22 on Feb. 8 … and they lost 4-3. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders have allowed a league-high 608 high-danger chances against at 5-on-5; the Washington Capitals come in a distant second with 560.

With 35.5 shots on goal allowed per game, the Islanders rank last in the league, and they’re giving up four more shots on goal than the 31.1 they average against opponents.

Maybe some of that comes down to the same creative talents making mistakes …

… Yet it’s difficult to shake the notion that something’s very wrong here.

Beyond personnel, you wonder if Doug Weight wasn’t totally prepared for life as NHL head coach.

He brings a wealth of experience as a fantastic NHL player, and he’s seasoned as assistant, but this appears to be Weight’s first head coaching gig at any level. Considering the career path of GM Garth Snow, the Islanders might have expected Weight to be another quick learner, but perhaps some of this comes down to systems and tactics?

Whatever is at the root of this problem, it should be treated as a crisis by the Islanders, particularly if Tavares is still making up his mind about his future. If Tavares wants to see more progress before he signs an extension, wouldn’t it behoove the Isles to dig deep to find any sort of solution?

No doubt, it’s an urgent time, as Weight admitted today.

Indeed, this is a pivotal week. Along with facing the Blue Jackets at home on Tuesday, the Islanders also host the Rangers on Thursday and then turn around for a road agame against the Hurricanes on Friday. That’s three contests, all against Metropolitan Division opponents. You could mark most games as important in general, but that’s especially true if those contests end in regulation.

On the bright side, the Islanders have Barzal, Tavares, and plenty of motivation. Even if that urgency brings with it some angst.

This team is really leaking chances, though, and you wonder if they can “outscore their problems.” The answer has been “No” far too often lately, even with Barzal rocketing up the charts.

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.