When you score a hat trick that included a couple of highlight reel goals and you tack on two points for a five-point game in helping your team beat a divisional rival, that should be the most impressive thing to your coach after the game right?
Well, Mat Barzal did something even more impressive during the Islanders’ 8-4 win over the Capitals on Thursday Night at the Nassau Coliseum to earn high praise from Head Coach Barry Trotz.
“One of the real key plays I thought (was when) he came back on a play in the third period and when it was 6-4,” said Trotz. “He really wiped out a real dangerous play in the crease because of good positioning. As much as he’s got the five points, I’m just as proud of his two-way game. When he plays that full two-way game like he did tonight, he’s going to be rewarded and he was.”
Barzal was rewarded for his 200-foot efforts with his third career hat trick and his fourth career five-point game and it helped the Islanders force a three-way tie with the Capitals and Penguins for the top spot in the East Division (the Capitals have a game in hand and visit the Devils on Friday night). With his three goals last night, Barzal now has 13 on the season tying him with Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson for the team lead. With two assists, he is now up to twenty which is second on the team to Nick Leddy’s 24. After a five-point night, Barzal now has a team leading 33 points.
There have certainly been some times this season when Barzal has taken his game to new levels.
“It’s just more so the pucks I’ve been getting through the neutral zone,” said Barzal. “I think I’m just trying to be more aggressive towards the net. Instead of always pulling up maybe I go for a skate and take it wide and get set up in the O zone. A little more attack mentality. I think that’s just all relative to the pucks I’m getting. Sometimes they work out like that and sometimes they’re off your shin pad.”
Barzal’s performance on Thursday night put him in some pretty good company when it comes to Islanders history. Isles MSG statistician Eric Hornick had some interesting tidbits on Barzal’s evening in Friday’s edition of “The Skinny” (www.nyiskinny.com).
Barzal is the fifth player in Islanders history with at least four five-point games joining Bryan Trottier (15 times), Mike Bossy (15 times), Denis Potvin (5 times) and Pat LaFontaine (4 times).
With a plus five in the win over the Capitals, Barzal now has multiple plus five games in his career joining Bryan Trottier (7 times) and Mike Bossy (3 times).
Barzal did it all on Thursday night and when he plays like that, he’s just impossible to contain.
“He played the right way,” said Trotz. “He moved the puck, got it back, he got open, he went to the hard areas, he drove the net, (and) he got to the slot. He didn’t try to do it by himself. He trusted his teammates. When he’s using his teammates and moving the puck like he was and getting it back and making things happen, he’s going to get rewarded.”
Barzal’s first goal of the night was breathtaking and brought back memories (at least to those of my generation) of Bob Bourne’s end to end goal against the Rangers in game five of the 1983 Patrick Division Final. With the score tied at 1-1 in the first period, Barzal picked up the puck behind the Islanders net and went coast to coast blowing past four Capitals and then going upstairs to beat Washington goalie Vitek Vanecek and give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
“Just taking my ice,” said Barzal. “I knew maybe those guys were a little tired maybe and were looking to change afterwards. I picked it up deep and I knew two of their guys were in battles with our d-men so just had a little bit of a step and was trying to be aggressive and I felt like I had some ice that I took advantage of.”
One would think that Trotz might have been a little uncomfortable with Barzal going end to end in that situation, but as he watched Barzal work his magic from one end of the rink to the other, it sure sounds like Trotz had the same emotions as the 1,400 socially-distanced fans that were getting up out of their seats.
“If he’s going, you want him to go Trots go,” said Trotz. “He was skating tonight. He was dangerous. You want him to go.”
And go he did during a night to remember for Mat Barzal who capped his hat trick in the third period with a baseball bat type swing as he swatted the puck out of mid-air into the net. He’s the Islanders’ best player in terms of skill but now with Captain Anders Lee sidelined for the rest of the season, Barzal has to be more than just the most skilled player on the team. He has to do special things on both ends of the ice but he can’t do it himself. That’s where he’s grown as a player. He doesn’t have to try and do it himself and he’s learned to trust the players around him.
On Thursday night, Mat Barzal was electrifying and for the Islanders and their fans, the best thing about that is that there’s more to come.