It’s only fitting that with 2019 just a few hours ahead, Mathew Barzal, the Islanders sensational sophomore, is in the spotlight.
Barzal, 21, is red-hot right now with 14 points in his last 10 games. The “Kid Who Won The Calder” after a somewhat underwhelming start to the season — expected with John Tavares’ absence and adjustment to Barry Trotz’s new system — has looked dominant for a couple of weeks now.
Speaking of Tavares, Barzal outshined his former teammate this past Saturday on the biggest stage. Barzal notched his second career hat trick in the Isles 4-0 drubbing of the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Hockey Night In Canada in front of the entire country. It was a game that Barzal himself knew he needed to be at his very best.
“You come into Toronto, Hockey Night in Canada, in the so-called hockey mecca, you’re trying to play a good game,” Barzal told The Athletic Toronto after his team’s victory. “You’ve got to be on your game against a team like that. If you don’t come prepared to play against those guys, they’re going to eat you up. You could tell before the game everyone was dialed in.”
Being dialed in, as he characterized it, earned Barzal the NHL’s 2nd Player of the Week honors earlier today for his performance in the Islanders two wins in 24 hours, where he recorded five goals and six points. It has took a little more time this season than some expected for Barzal to start repeating his unbelievable play from his rookie campaign, but it’s come at the perfect time for his squad.
The Islanders have won six out of their last seven, and Barzal has been at the forefront of it all with timely goals and big-time performances. It should come as no surprise that with their reigning Calder winner on a heater, the team is playing its best hockey of the season. From the minute Tavares informed the Isles he would not returned, all eyes shifted to Barzal as the most prolific offensive threat the team endures and the face of the franchise. When Barzal goes, the whole team follows suit.
Barzal as the go-to-guy might be a little more pressure on his plate, but he’s showed time and time again that he embraces the limelight.
He’s not on pace for the 90+ points many imagined for him, but Barzal still leads the team with 35 points and becoming a bonafide two-way player that Trotz and the Isles brass want him to become. His chemistry with fellow youngster Anthony Beauvillier — who also got off to a rough start to this season — has continued and progressed even more since when they were put back together in late November. The two, just like they did the entire second half of last season, are providing that offensive 1-2 punch for the Isles.
As the Islanders near their midpoint of the season and continue to play good hockey, it’s on Barzal to continue his exceptional play.
In the midst of his second season, he’s shown that he can move past struggles and criticism. When he’s been needed the most, he’s dazzled and been clutch. And if the Isles are going to make the playoffs — shocking the hockey world in the process — it will be on Barzal’s back.
The future is already exciting enough with Barzal as the Isles cornerstone. But how’s he’s handled this season and evolved, should have fans even more in a frenzy for what’s to come.
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