The Islanders were unable to close out their series with the Florida Panthers earlier today falling 3-2.
One of the underlying factors — besides the self-inflicted mistakes, missed opportunities and inability to stop the Panthers’ power play — was the missing presence of the first line.
In particular, Mathew Barzal.
Barzal, has basically been a non-factor throughout the series thus far.
The argument is the same for Anders Lee. That’s another topic for another day. Barzal though is the star of the team and their most important forward.
And that begs the question: where exactly is the Islanders’ top center?
Barzal has a measly one point and six shots total to show for through three games. That’s really not what Islanders fans had in mind after how he looked in last Wednesday’s exhibition game and the torrid pace he was on when the regular season was postponed.
You would have thought after a very quiet first game and his line being called out by head coach Barry Trotz, Barzal would get back to his game in game two.
Barzal did get his first point of the series during the contest — a secondary assist on linemate Jordan Eberle’s game-winning goal — but generated very little beyond that.
Then today in the potential clincher, Barzal mustered just two shots in 19:14 of ice time. Trotz double-shifted him in the third with the Islanders down two but again nothing came of it.
It can be argued that Barzal struggles might not be much of a surprise. Everyone knew the Panthers were going to key in on him because he is the most prominent and dangerous forward on the Islanders’ roster. And full credit should go to Florida’s D and several of their forwards. They have done a terrific job shutting Barzal down.
Still, the Panthers playing him hard doesn’t take away from the fact that Barzal has yet to elevate his game as the series has worn on.
There’s been a lot of one-and-done shifts from Barzal in all three games. He’s made some bad decisions with the puck leading to giveaways and turnovers. He hasn’t used that speed and his edge work to create space like he’s notorious for. And finally, Barzal has yet to have any impact when the Isles have been handed power plays.
That’s not going to cut it if the Islanders are going to win this series and want to have a deep run this summer.
Which brings us to Friday and a pivotal game four.
The last thing the Isles want is to have to play another game, a do-or-die one too on Sunday. That’s why it’s crucial Barzal finally makes his presence felt. Barry Trotz is going to need all his guys to be on their A-game, Barzal most importantly. Plus, for how much the second and third line guys have carried the load most of the series, it’s really on Barzal to repay the favor and start producing.
We’ve been trying to figure out where Mathew Barzal has been so far in this qualifying round. He’s been a non-factor.
But there still a chance for him to turn his postseason around.
Not only does he need it but his squad does as well.