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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.