Mathew Barzal sets high standards for Islanders’ new top line


BUFFALO — Talking about the Islanders’ still new-ish superstar-infused top line Thursday morning, Mathew Barzal brought up the Lightning trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos as a bar for which himself, Bo Horvat and Brock Nelson could strive to reach.

“That line is hard, hard to play against,” Barzal said before the Islanders were blown out 4-0 by the Sabres. “When we play them, they’ve always caused problems for us.”

Barzal, weary of an interview that veered in the direction of where his line could get better being spun negatively, quickly pointed out that the Islanders went on a six-game winning streak upon Roy changing up the forward group.

Mathew Barzal skates with the puck as Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens (24) tries to defend during the third period at KeyBank Center.
Mathew Barzal skates with the puck as Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens defends during the Islanders’ 4-0 loss to the Sabres. Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

If the record did not make obvious that, yes, any improvements are about honing a product that is already working as opposed to making it go, so too are his line’s numbers compared to the aforementioned Tampa trio.

Here was Point, Kucherov and Stamkos over 301:57 together at five-on-five this season per Natural Stat Trick: 50.88 shots for percentage, 44.74 goals for percentage, 48.61 expected goals percentage, 47.41 high-danger chance percentage.

Here was Nelson, Horvat and Barzal over 111:27 together: 55.08 shots for percentage, 69.23 goals for percentage, 53.2 expected goals percentage, 54.55 high-danger chance percentage.

What played out later that night, though, did not help the Islanders’ case as their top line — along with the rest of the offense — disappeared in a second straight shutout loss (The Lightning trio, meanwhile, accounted for a combined five goals and six assists as they beat the Rangers, though they did not play as a line).

Barzal’s pregame assessment, that his line had played well but perhaps left a little bit on the table, ended up looking good, albeit not for the reasons he would’ve wanted.

“I don’t think there’s been one game yet where there’s been a full 60 minutes — maybe the San Jose game — but a full 60 minutes where it’s just domination,” Barzal said. “There’s still a little bit of growing together. It’s different.

“We have three guys on the line, I don’t think any of us have played on a line with three centermen, one. But also just three guys where, I gotta do a better job respecting Nelly when he has the puck and Bo when he has the puck and being that guy who gets to the net. I gotta get to the net a little bit more and let them play a give-and-go game down low. Vice versa, when me and Bo are playing, Nelly’s there. But I think the overall picture’s been solid.”

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen #1 of the Buffalo Sabres tends goal against Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders during an NHL game on March 14, 2024 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen makes a save on Mathew Barzal during the Islanders’ loss. NHLI via Getty Images

Matt Martin returned to the lineup after missing Monday’s loss to the Kings with a lower-body injury, skating in his usual spot on the fourth line alongside Kyle MacLean and Cal Clutterbuck.


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