Mathew Barzal: An Odd Second Season

There’s only one way to score a goal in the NHL and that’s to shoot the puck.

Now, there are a number of things that can happen after the puck is shot, such as: getting deflected, being blocked, going through a screen, or straight up beating the goaltender, just to name a few.

But each of those outcomes stems from the puck being shot.

And that is something, Mathew Barzal just hasn’t had a lot of success doing this season. Coming into the Islanders’ game on Wednesday December 12, 2018, against the Vegas Golden Knights, last season’s Calder Trophy recipient had just 59 shots in 29; good for an average of 2.03 shots per game. (An average that rose ever so slightly courtesy of his three shot performance against Vegas).

For someone as talented as Barzal, that is a hard fact to believe. But the proof is in the pudding as Barzal has only three goals in the first 29 games of the season.

But before anyone gets the wrong idea, the dynamite Coquitlam, British Columbia native came into play against Vegas with the second-highest points total on the team; one off Josh Bailey’s team-leading 24. So, whatever Barzal is currently lacking in the shooting department, he is more than making up for with his impressive total of 20 assists.

(NOTE: Barzal tallied an assist, his first of two on the night, on Anthony Beauvillier’s first period goal during the Isles’ 3-2 loss to Vegas on Wednesday night). And his two-assist night allowed him to jump Bailey for the team-lead in points; a battle that will surely take all season to determine a winner.

At times, new Isles’ head coach, Barry Trotz has seemed slightly perturbed by his superstar’s lack of goal-scoring, but he’s nonetheless happy with Barzal’s overall level of play.

On November 1, 2018, Trotz told The New York Post’s, Brett Cyrgalis, “I would say it’s been erratic for him. One of the things that happens when you have a great first season — and I talked to Mathew [about this] even in the summer — it’s not going to be as easy. And he’s finding it’s not. Trust me, he’s trying.

“Once he gets all those things locked in, he’s going to be a tremendous player, a two-way player,” continued Trotz. “My goal is to make him an elite two-way player in the National Hockey League, not just an elite talent. There’s a big difference between those two.”

Just under two months later, Barzal’s goal-scoring has yet to come around, but he’s been a better overall player and that’s important.

“It’s not easy to score in this league,” said Barzal.

He’s right; it’s not easy. And that’s why players who score a lot of goals make a lot of money.

But there’s more to Barzal’s game than goal-scoring. His passing and ice vision are second to none.

“I’m just trying to find an open guy,” explained Barzal. “I’m trying to give him a chance to get open and score.”

While the Isles’ Whiz Kid isn’t putting the puck in the back of the net as often as he would like, he’s still averaging close to a point per game and is one reasonable hot streak away from getting back to that pace.

And that makes his odd season all the more intriguing. He’s not scoring, but he’s still racking up points.

Who knows, maybe he has an Ovechkin-esque streak coming around the corner? Or maybe he’s more of a Joe Thornton-type. Either way, Barzal is a high-quality superstar and the Islanders are certainly happy he’s on their side.

And nobody knows that better than Coach Trotz: “Mathew’s game has been building. His last three games he’s been dangerous. He’s becoming a more complete player.”

So, while Barzal might not be Ovechkin in the goal department, and let’s face it, who is? He is however similar to “The Great Eight” in another way; both were groomed by Trotz to become more complete players. Ovechkin proved last season that you can teach an old dog new tricks. And now Barzal is showing you can teach young pups too.

In the meantime, enjoy the ride Isles fans and watch as Barzal continues to develop into one of the most complete and dangerous threats in the NHL; regardless of his goal totals.

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