For the first time in 284 games, Mathew Barzal did not suit up for the New York Islanders last night against the Buffalo Sabres. The typically dynamic forward was a healthy scratch on Tuesday’s contest, the second game of a back-to-back in which the Islanders recorded just one point against the basement dwellers from western New York.
In peak Islander fashion, the team dropped both games against the fifth string goaltender, 28-year old Michael Houser. In game two, the Islanders scored three goals and surely could have used a scoring punch from the Isles star center. However, head coach Barry Trotz gave the 23-year old the day off.
“Mat is a good pro, he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing,” Trotz said. “Just want to get him in the right place, feeling good so he’s a good player for us in the playoffs.”
Trotz later added that the scratch was less about sending a message and more about giving Barzal some rest. According to Arthur Staple of The Athletic, Trotz wanted to give Barzal more than just rest on Tuesday.
Trotz said this afternoon he wanted to give a couple guys some rest. Barzal, who was fighting the puck all game on Monday, misses his first #Isles game since he became a regular in 2017-18.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) May 4, 2021
Barzal and the Isles have played quite a bit of hockey as of late, given the compressed end to a COVID-19 schedule. In the last month alone, the Islanders have played 15 games in 29 days, with three back-to-backs. For the sake of the Islanders and their fans, they have to hope this recent skid is more due to the sheer amount of games they have played, rather than a lapse in the team’s structure.
Despite the day of rest for Barzal, he has not been good enough for the games he’s dressed for. Over his last 10 games, the Islanders are just 4-4-2, and Barzal has scored just two goals and three total points in nine of those games. For the Islanders to have success in the postseason, Barzal is going to need to be a point per game player if the Isles are to make a deep run.
In Barzal’s defense, however, he has seen a slew of wingers thrown his way as Trotz tries to spark his floundering offense. Barzal has played with Leo Komorav, Jordan Eberle, and Travis Zajac, among others. Perhaps to spark Barzal, Trotz should load up the top line. For these final three games, get Barzal playing with talent that would complement his own: Oliver Wahlstrom, Anthony Beauviller, and maybe even Michael Dal Colle if Trotz feels the need to keep the line defensively responsible.
Currently, the Islanders sit one point behind the Boston Bruins for the three-seed, while the Bruins have a game in hand. The final game of the season in Boston could determine the Islanders’ seed, as well.
While Trotz is set on giving his guys some rest, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are not expected to start until after the regular season ends on May 19. The NHL extended the regular season, with the original end date on May 8 due to the COVID-19 outbreak sustained within the Vancouver Canucks organization.
With the Islanders having at least nine days off, perhaps Trotz will think twice before scratching his top players for the final three contests to help them gain some momentum, as time ticks for the blue and orange to figure it out. The team has not played up to snuff as of late and might not have the leeway to rest forwards who need to get back to patented and effective Islanders hockey.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattWatling99