Coming into the game against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, the New York Islanders were averaging 24 shots per game and scoring just 1.67 goals per contest. But at the same time, the defense was only allowing 1.67 goals per game, even with the 5-0 loss to the New York Rangers last Saturday. Nevertheless, the team was 2-1 on the young campaign.
Since opening night, both Mat Barzal and Brock Nelson had been M.I.A. Both were not creating offense as we saw in the first game of the season and were failing to do the little things they did well in the Canadian bubbles.
With the team already having offensive issues, dating back to last regular season (2.78 G/GP, ranked 22nd), their two best offensive players, at least in my eyes, needed to start waking up. They did not even have to score. They just needed to light a spark under this offense.
They both did just that in this matchup against the Devils.
Mat Barzal put on a show in the New York Islanders’ 4-1 win.
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Barzal had a very quiet start to the 2020-21 NHL season, with his lone point coming on his opening night goal. But since then, Barzal has been unnoticeable, something that your number one center cannot be.
He was taking offensive penalties, turning the puck over, failing to use his skate.
But against the Devils, the Barzal from opening night was back. You could see the 23-year old rising star was on a mission to dominate the offensive zone from puck drop.
He ended the night with a goal on five shots, two assists, and a block in 18:43 minutes. He was also 60 percent in the face-off dot. The goal, as we have become accustomed to, was an absolute beauty.
I’m just running out of words at this point. If Barzal can become a player that lets the puck fly off his stick at a higher rate than usual, he will be nearly impossible to predict in the offensive zone.
“He could be a 30 to 50 goal scorer if he had the mentality to just shoot the puck…”
The New York Islanders’ top-six forwards had themselves a big night.
Besides sniping tonight, Barzal worked hard in his own zone, which led to Jordan Eberle‘s first goal of the season.
He sneakily stick lifts, steals the puck in his own zone before making a quick outlet pass to Anders Lee made this play. Without a hard backcheck, who knows what would have happened.
“Barzy is so dynamic…” said teammate Nelson following the win. “When you get that (Barzal’s play), you get a little momentum offensively.”
Barzal will look to mimic his performance tonight more consistently throughout the season.
Brock Nelson gets injured but returns with a goal.
After scoring the first goal for the Islanders this season, Nelson has looked lackluster on the ice over the last three games. His line, which was so successful in the playoff bubble, seemed to be out of sync, as they tried to figure out how to get going.
Nelson is a player that I have ridiculed in the past for taking too long to shoot the puck or trying to make a move resulting in a blocked shot or turnover. I would argue that Nelson, a consistent goal scorer for this team over the last six years, has the quickest, most accurate release on this hockey club.
This year, I was waiting to see him use his creativity in the offensive zone. But he was not doing anything extra to make that happen.
However, in last night’s win, Nelson was visibly an offensive threat, as he recorded a goal on four shots and was making his presence known in 15:43 TOI. He would have played more if he didn’t get hurt, but we will get to that in just a bit.
It started with a nice backhand deke early in the game to set up Matt Martin for a scoring chance. There was no video of this play that I could find, but it showed me that Nelson was starting to gain confidence. And that is not a good sign for any defensive pairing in this league.
With time counting down in the second period, Nelson would lose his footing, resulting in him going headfirst into the lower body of P.K. Subban. An accidental collision resulted in a nasty cut above Nelson’s right eye, most likely due to his visor.
He would leave the game and, as you can see, needed a hefty amount of stitches. But he did return and made an impact on the scoreboard.
With the Islanders on the powerplay, Nelson deflected a Leddy point-shot to give his team a three-goal cushion in the third.
Nelson was a workhorse. Besides the talented plays, he was dominant in the face-off dot, as he won 81.8 percent of his draws.
Nelson made a statement before the game that he believed the offense would get going. Little did we know that we should add psychic powers to his resume.
Final Notes on the New York Islanders’ win.
Both Mat Barzal and Brock Nelson need to be consistent offensive threats if the New York Islanders expect to finish in one of the four playoff spots in this tight East Division. The defense is the team’s bread and butter, and so far this season, it looks to be as dominant as last year. “Could this offense produce?” was the biggest question heading into this season. You and I are seeing this team has the weapons to score. It’s just about seeing players like these two put together performances like this consistently.