When you are a star in the National Hockey League, you are given different expectations and are held to a higher standard. Islanders’ forward Mathew Barzal isn’t an exception to this and his recent actions haven’t been living up to those expectations and standards.
In 12 games this March, Barzal’s production has taken a dip, just seven points (one goal, six assists), including just three assists in his last nine games. To add fuel to the fire, Barzal has been heavily criticized for taking bad penalties for retaliating after taking hits that he didn’t like.
Bazal’s frustration isn’t undeserved, as he has been targeted by teams all season long who try to take shots at him, such as when the Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov broke his stick over Bazal’s back on a cross-check and there wasn’t a penalty called.
Kuznetsov broke his stick over Barzal’s back 😬 pic.twitter.com/W4l1gUow1w— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) March 16, 2021
Although it is easy to understand Barzal’s frustration, it doesn’t justify his actions.
At the same time, his teammates need to step up too. A team’s star doesn’t typically have the high amount of penalty minutes that Barzal does — 36 minutes in 33 games — and some of those would be erased if someone else on the team stepped up for Barzal.
At this point, this hasn’t really happened and teams have made it a part of their game plan to get under Barzal’s skin and try to force him to take these bad retaliation penalties.
You don’t want anyone on the team taking penalties, but if other players on the team responded instead, such as Matt Martin or Cal Clutterbuck, then maybe this can help limit Barzal’s frustration. Keeping him on the ice and giving him more opportunities to produce at the offensive end of the ice.
Players like Martin and Clutterbuck have been great for the Islanders this year, but part of their strengths is their ability to set the tone with physical play. They are able to stand up for the Islanders stars without taking penalties that leave the team short-handed. Showing Barzal support on the ice like this may seem unnecessary at first, but giving their best player one less thing to worry about, such as watching his back for cheap shots or defending himself so they don’t continue to happen should help him find his form that we saw to start the season, where he scored 10 points in the first nine games of the season.
While it is important to stand up for and support your stars, Barzal is still responsible for his recent actions and scoring drought. But the sooner that he can shake this recent slump, the better it is for the entire team.
The bottom line for Barzal and the Islanders is that he is the future leader of this organization. They’ve started investing in him financially for the future.
Now it is time for the team to support him in every way possible on the ice as well.
Follow Ben on Twitter at @BenMandell55