Patience, poise of Islanders’ Barzal leaves opponents guessing

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Anders Lee shook his head in disbelief after being asked whether he had the patience of Mathew Barzal with the puck at age 21. Barry Trotz described himself as an “idiot” at that age. “God, to think what I was doing at 21,” said the New York Islanders head coach on Thursday.

To watch Barzal control the puck in high-pressure situations, you would think he was an experienced veteran with years under his belt. Instead, he’s a 21-year-old forward in his second full NHL season in the league who just experienced his first ever Stanley Cup Playoff game.

And boy did he leave a mark.

It was Barzal’s play in front of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ net in Game 1 Wednesday night that led to Josh Bailey’s overtime winner.

As Bailey’s chip out of the Islanders’ zone landed along the boards, Barzal and Jordan Eberle entered the Penguins’ zone on a 2-on-1 against Brian Dumoulin, with Zach Aston-Reese rushing to get back. Barzal had a good angle to take a shot from the circle to Matt Murray’s right. Instead, he cut to the slot, which ended with a diving Dumoulin sliding backward in a failed poke-check attempt. Aston-Reese was trying to pick up Eberle and reached him at the side of the net.

Time almost stood still as Barzal stopped on a dime in the slot. He had what opposing teams try to avoid giving up when defending him: time and space.

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A deke and a backhand later, Barzal’s shot rang off the post and fell right to a trailing Bailey, who (after a brief review) sent the Nassau Coliseum crowd home happy.

“I kind over overstayed my stay in front there,” Barzal said of the game-winning goal. “I was just waiting for the right play.”

Scour the scouting reports on Barzal during his draft year and the words “poise” and “patience” appear frequently. Those aren’t traits he’s developed in his two seasons in the NHL, they were with him before he even reached the Islanders.

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Thomas Hickey remembers Barzal’s first NHL training and the impression that was left. The off-the-charts skating ability wowed the Islanders veterans.

“You don’t have total respect for a guy coming out of junior yet, but I think we all learned pretty quick you don’t want to look silly,” he said.

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Making opposing defensemen look silly has been a regular thing for Barzal, who has 40 goals and 107 assists in 166 NHL games. His patience and speed controlling the puck helps create scoring chances. So is there a strategic way to shut him down?

“With him, it’s more what you leave him than anything else because he’s got so many tools,” Hickey said. “Certainly a tough player to defend. You can see that with his cut backs, change of speed, agility. It’s special.”

Barzal’s edge work and ability to go east-to-west on the ice forces opponents to pay attention, and sometimes draws them in to create passing lanes and scoring opportunities for his Islanders teammates. As with all talented players, he thinks the game on a different level than his peers and his vision with the puck is one of his biggest assets.

Now battling against his childhood idol, Sidney Crosby, in a playoff series, it was during NHL All-Star Weekend in January that Barzal got to play with the Penguins captain during the 3-on-3 tournament while representing the Metropolitan Division. After the trio helped the division win the $1M prize, the Islanders forward received plenty of praise from one of the world’s best.

“The way he holds onto the puck, the way he skates, 3-on-3, I don’t know if there is anyone better when it comes to holding onto it,” Crosby said. “The way that he can just beat you 1-on-1, beat you with his speed, hold onto it. You watch him out there against the best, I don’t see anyone that really beats him in that category.

Outside of an All-Star Game environment, Eberle and Lee have meshed well on a line with Barzal, after the pair spent part of the season with Brock Nelson in the middle. Trotz reunited the line last month, and Eberle or Lee have become accustomed to playing with the dynamic Barzal.

“There’s definitely a difference between playing with him than there is playing with Brock [Nelson],” Eberle said. “But I played with Barzy all last season, we had a ton of success, and I know how to play with him. I think we play similar games and we think the game similar, that it makes it easy for us. A lot of times he’s doing things that I would be doing and thinking about doing and he’s feeling the same way about my game. It’s just easy to read off each other when you’re on the same wavelength.”

“Thankfully, I think our chemistry’s kind of hit pretty quickly,” Lee said. “Ever since we got put together, Ebs and I and Barzy have done pretty well. The adjustment wasn’t really much at all. He’s so dynamic in the way he creates space for not only himself, but for others, the way he carries the puck up the ice, and sees the ice. It’s really important to feed off each other and make quick plays because he can make those. … He knows when I’m down low, I know when he’s up top, using each other’s strengths has been good for us.”

The scary thing for the other 30 NHL teams and an encouraging sign for the Islanders is that Barzal is still improving. In his first season working day to day with him, Trotz has noticed how responsive his young forward is to being taught, and he possesses the desire to reach the elite level that Crosby achieved years ago.

“He’s maturing all the time, and you want players to mature as players, but as importantly you want them to mature as good pros,” Trotz said. “He’s surrounded by some great people, and he’s learning from great people. There’s some things you want to get out of his ‘junior game’ so he can be more effective at the NHL level.

“He listens and is very coachable. He’s just like all good players, there’s a stubbornness to their game because they’ve had success and sometimes it’s hard to get away from. He wants to be one of the top players in the National Hockey League and hopefully if he stays on the right path as he has he’ll continue to grow and you’ll see him be a player that [he’s capable of being].”

Two years into his professional career, nothing has surprised Barzal’s teammates about their young star. They know he’s going to create scoring chances. They know his speed will turn a mundane situation into a quick attack transition. They know when the moment is big, there will be no nerves getting in his way, as we saw Wednesday night. They know that irrational decisions with the puck is not part of his hockey makeup.

“It’s what made him good at every level he’s played at,” said Hickey. “If you lose that poise, that ability to really show no fear with it, then you take away his biggest asset. That’s what’s got him here. A lot of guys lose a bit of that their first couple of years pro. Thankfully he didn’t lose that because he wouldn’t be the same player.”

MORE: Isles’ Josh Bailey finds redemption in Game 1 vs. Penguins

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Sharks send Patrick Marleau to Penguins for draft pick

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford wanted to add another forward ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline, and he accomplished that by acquiring Patrick Marleau from the San Jose Sharks.

The Penguins will send a conditional third-round pick to San Jose for the veteran forward who will get another crack at winning his first Stanley Cup.

That draft pick will become a second-round pick if the Penguins win the Stanley Cup this season.

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

Marleau, 40, signed with the Sharks earlier this season after a two-year stop with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto traded him over the summer to Carolina, where he was promptly bought out to make him an unrestricted free agent. It was at that point that he made his return to San Jose, the city he called home for the first 19 years of his career.

In 58 games this season he has scored 10 goals to go with 10 assists for a Sharks team that has been — by far — the biggest disappointment in the NHL this season.

Where Marleau fits in Pittsburgh will be interesting to see.

While not possessing the top-end speed he did in his prime, Marleau can still skate well enough to fit in the Penguins’ system but his days as a top producer are well behind him. But the Penguins don’t really need him to be a top-line producer. They need depth. Given the current status of their fourth-line, as well as the recent injury to Zach Aston-Reese, they had an immediate need for help in their bottom-six. They are counting on Marleau still being able to provide that. If nothing else he should be an upgrade over their current fourth-line set-up. It is just a matter of how much of an upgrade that is.

The Penguins previously acquired speedy winger Jason Zucker from the Minnesota Wild a couple of weeks ago.

Marleau and his new team will play the Sharks in San Jose later this week.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Live Blog

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Welcome to Pro Hockey Talk’s 2020 NHL trade deadline live blog. There’s already been a flurry of action in the past few days, but some names are still out there who could potentially be on the move before 3 p.m. ET today. Read on for new and analysis.

11:23 a.m. ET

A very newsworthy morning for the Rangers. President John Davidson said that they have extended Chris Kreider for seven years at a $6.5M cap hit, which is good news for Rangers fans and for their 2020 playoff push. JD also brought some bad news revealing that Pavel Buchnevich and Igor Shestrkin were involved in a Sunday night car accident. Buchnevich is considered day to day, but Shesterkin suffered a small rib fracture and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Henrik Lundqvist is now back in the New York goalie picture.

11:14 a.m. ET

It’s funny what deadlines can do. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, now it appears as if the Rangers will extend Chris Kreider, which would take one of the bigger names off the board.

11:05 a.m. ET

Patrick Marleau‘s quest for a Stanley Cup will continue in Pittsburgh after the Penguins acquired the veteran in exchange for a conditional third-round pick. (Pick becomes a second if Pittsburgh wins the Cup.) This move has real “Iginla to Pens, circa 2013” vibes to it. Does Marleau’s game fit into their system of speed and chipping and winning pucks? He’s certainly added depth on the wing and Mike Sullivan is hoping he can find a role for him in their bottom six.

10:50 a.m. ET

Nate Thompson moves from the Canadiens to Philadelphia, which gives Marc Bergevin an arsenal of picks when Montreal hosts the 2021 draft in June. Bergevin has stockpiled 13 picks in the upcoming draft, six of which will come in the opening three rounds.

10:16 a.m. ET

Another move, this one between two teams chasing playoff spots in the East. Vincent Trocheck is on his way to Carolina in exchange for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark and prospects Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen. The Panthers have dropped nine of their last 13 games. This must be Dale Tallon’s idea of a wake-up call.

PHT analysis

10:00 a.m. ET

The NHL schedule features only the Senators and Blue Jackets so there will be heavy focus on whatever moves are consummated before the deadline. Some names still out there include Chris Kreider, Tyson Barrie, Sami Vatanen, Erik Gustafsson, Jesper Fast, and Wayne Simmonds, among many others.

In Kreider’s case, there were questions as to whether he’d even be on the market. The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported over the weekend that contract talks between the forward and the Rangers have stalled and he’ll likely be dealt. He’s been linked to the Bruins for a while now, but was adding Ondrej Kase their only move to bolster up front?

9:50 a.m. ET

We have our first trades of the day! Vladislav Namestnikov is headed to the Avalanche for a 2021 fourth-round pick. Joe Sakic adds depth for a team that has eyes on winning the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, Senators GM Pierre Dorion goes and sends Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the Islanders for a conditional 2020 first-round pick, a 2020 second-round pick, and a conditional 2022 third-round pick. If the 2020 first-rounder is top three, it moves to 2021, and Ottawa will only receive the 2022 pick if the Islanders win the Cup this season.

For a team that is looking towards the future, this has been a good day so far for Dorion, who could also move Tyler Ennis before the deadline. The Senators own nine potential picks in the first three rounds of the 2002 NHL Draft and seven in the first four rounds in 2021. Those are a lot of assets to build a prospect cupboard and also use for trade bait.

PHT analysis

9:00 a.m. ET

Good morning! Welcome to Pro Hockey Talk’s 2020 NHL trade deadline live blog. There’s already been a flurry of action in the past few days, but some names are still out there who could potentially be on the move before 3 p.m. ET today.

Be sure to check out the PHT Trade Tracker today for every move made and we’ll have full coverage of all the big deals that go down today.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Hurricanes send package featuring Haula to Panthers for Trocheck

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While the Hurricanes and Panthers pursue playoff spots, the two teams decided to be trade partners on Monday.

Florida sent the 26-year-old center to Carolina in exchange for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie, and Eetu Luostarinen

“Vincent brings elements of skill and competitiveness that fit the mold of the style we want to play,” said Hurricanes GM Don Waddell. “He’s a right-handed center who is excellent in the face-off circle. With two years left on his contract after this one, this fills a need for our roster for this year and moving forward.”

The move now gives the Hurricanes Trocheck, who has two more seasons on a contract that carries a $4.75M salary cap hit, Sebastian Aho, and Jordan Staal as their three big centers. That’s a strong threesome down the middle for a team that has eyes on doing more than just finding their way back into the postseason.

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

Haula, who has 12 goals and 22 points in 41 games this season, can be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s shooting 15.4% this season, higher than his average of 12.9%. Will a third team in two seasons kickstart him offensively after netting 29 goals with Vegas two years ago?

On the flip side, this is a moving by the Hurricanes where they see plenty of upside in Trocheck. They wanted to add a player with term and got one. Trocheck is shooting 7.8% this season, well-below his 10% average, which could mean the goals will come in Raleigh.

“Today we acquired players with depth, versatility, and playoff experience,” said Panthers GM Dale Tallon. “Haula and Wallmark give us more depth in the forward line and more options for our coaches as we continue our quest to make the playoffs this season.”

“It’s always a tough decision to part with one of our core young men. Vincent is a quality person and we thank him for his excellent work ethic and play and passion for the game. This deal helps us in the present and in the future as we strengthen our depth chart.”

Florida has lost nine of their last 13 games and sit two points behind the Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and four points behind the Hurricanes for the final wild card. Is this Tallon’s attempt at waking up his team?

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

David Ayres’ memorable NHL debut yet to sink in

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David Ayres’ night was over. Life around him had quieted down. There were no more media requests, his pads were packed up and he was heading home on the hour-long drive from Scotiabank Arena.

But when the emergency backup goalie who is the talk of the hockey world arrived home, he faced his toughest challenge of the weekend: falling asleep. The adrenaline was still going and the 42-year-old Ayres was still thinking about what he had accomplished.

We all the know the story by now. Ayres, the Toronto area EBUG was called into action against the Maple Leafs Saturday night when Hurricanes lost James Reimer and Petr Mrazek to injury. After allowing two goals on the first two shots he faced, he settled down and made eight saves to help Carolina to a remarkable 6-3 win.

Since Saturday night Ayres has been on a media whirlwind with interviews all day Sunday before flying to New York for more.

“It hasn’t really sunk in too much,” Ayres told NBC Sports Monday morning before appearing on the TODAY show. “I haven’t really had a chance to even watch [the game]. I see clips here and there. …  I guess when I watch it it’ll sink in a little bit more. It’s been crazy the last 36 hours. This has been a lot of fun, and I’m sure it’ll sink in soon.”

Ayres, who’s been an EBUG for three years, said that when he checked his phone following the game he has 160 text messages waiting for him. One of those texts was from Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins, who coached the AHL Marlies when Ayres helped out as their practice goalie. 

“Everyone was proud, right? So that was cool,” he said.

Another unexpected message Ayres received was from Scott Foster, who played 14 minutes for the Blackhawks in another EBUG situation in March 2018. Foster stopped all seven shots he faced to preserve the victory over the Jets.

“Scott said, ‘When I was watching you, I was standing up in my living room, I was clapping, I was cheering for you,'” said Ayres, who also spoke Jorge Alves, the Hurricanes equipment manager who played seven seconds of a game in 2017. “He said he was so happy.”

The Hurricanes, known to work quick in these viral situations, announced they would start selling Ayres shirseys with proceeds benefiting a kidney foundation, something he wanted to ensure was part of the deal. Ayres had a kidney transplant in 2004 and his mom was the donor.

“If it wasn’t for my kidney transplant I wouldn’t have been able to do this right now,” said Ayres, who’s full-time job is maintenance operations manager at Mattamy Athletic Centre, which we once knew as Maple Leafs Gardens. “That was the one thing I wanted to do was to make sure there was a kidney foundation in and around Raleigh that we could do something for and hopefully reach somebody and give them step towards where they want to be after they have a transplant or a kidney disease.”

This is the start of a busy week for Ayres. After Monday’s media tour he’ll head to Raleigh where he’ll serve as the Hurricanes Siren Sounder before Tuesday’s game against the Stars. The city will also honor him by proclaiming it “David Ayres Day.” That comes on the heels of North Carolina governor Roy Cooper Tweeting he’s ready to make the netminder an honorary citizen of the state.

Oh, and the stick Ayres used is heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Pretty, pretty good weekend.

MORE: David Ayres visits the TODAY show

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.