Mathew Barzal proves again he can do anything Islanders throw at him

The irony of Mathew Barzal reaching 50 assists for the first time in seven seasons upon being moved from center is that the big 5-0 came when he was back down the middle. 

A three-point performance — one goal, two assists — in the Islanders’ 6-3 win over the Jets on Saturday served to prove that Barzal can still do it on days where he is not next to Bo Horvat and can still be depended upon to carry a line. 

“They were not fancy,” Patrick Roy said of the trio that also included Anders Lee and Hudson Fasching. “They put the puck deep, they forechecked. Anders was around the net, Barzy was controlling the puck and he made great decisions.” 

Mathew Barzal (13) skates across the blue line against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period at UBS Arena. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

This was a grinding performance by a player more known for playing East-West than North-South, with all three of the goals Barzal was involved in coming around the net.

It might not be his forte, but doing the dirty work of playing along the walls or backchecking has become a part of his game. 

The question coming into the season was whether Barzal could handle a positional switch.

Mathew Barzal celebrates his goal against the Winnipeg Jets. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

The answer now, as he speeds towards the close of his best season professionally since winning the 2018 Calder Trophy is that he can handle whatever the Islanders throw at him. 

“I think my overall game, I’ve definitely tried to focus on my backchecking, takeaways and positioning,” Barzal said.

“I’ve tried to elevate that and be as complete as I can. That’s just an everyday focus for me right now. Especially down the stretch I need to be complete, playing 200 feet.” 

Even as the Islanders have become mired in a playoff race full of underwhelming teams, Barzal has provided reminder after reminder of his ultimate potential this season.

He built an unimpeachable chemistry with Horvat, quickly adapted to a new position and then new system following the coaching change, has put in a career-high ice time average and recommitted himself to the defensive end. 

Mathew Barzal scored a goal in the Islanders’ win over the Jets. Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

The offensive numbers have followed, even as Barzal and Horvat have been separated for the time being. 

Not that Barzal is counting. 

“At the end of the day, I could have 150 points this year,” he said, “and if we don’t make the playoffs it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.” 

Simon Holmstrom was made a healthy scratch for just the second time this season, coming out of the lineup for Matt Martin. 

Casey Cizikas took Holmstrom’s spot on the third line and skated to Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s left with Pierre Engvall to his right.

Martin skated on the fourth line with Kyle MacLean and Cal Clutterbuck, as per usual. 

Alexander Romanov skated next to Robert Bortuzzo on the third defensive pair.

Mike Reilly took Romanov’s usual spot to Ryan Pulock’s left. 

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