Mathew Barzal has played 173 NHL games so far in his NHL career and in that time he’s established himself as the New York Islanders’ best player. What he has not done in that time is made an impact as a shooter. In 143 of those games, Barzal has registered three or fewer shots.
After seeing him rip the two most pivotal goals of the game into the back of the Winnipeg net in the Islanders 3-1 victory over the Jets Thursday night, you have to wonder why he doesn’t unleash that deadly shot more often. Well, the 22-year-old is shooting the puck a little bit more this season, but not much. In his Calder Trophy rookie season, Barzal took just 2.07 shots per game. Last season, he increased that to 2.18. And with 18 shots through seven games this season, he’s up at 2.57 per game.
But when you see him score goals like this:
You wonder why he’s not taking six or seven shots a game. Part of it is the fact that he’s often the one carrying the puck and controlling it through the offensive zone, showing a remarkable amount of poise and ability to possess the puck and setting teammates up for scoring chances. That naturally leads to a penchant for more assists, but the Islanders are clearly aware of how well he shoots the puck and want to see him do it more.
“He’s shooting the puck way better,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the win over the Jets. “We talked about it last year, sort of being a dual threat and not always a pass-first guy. He changed a lot of things this summer and that was one of them.”
Twice last season, Barzal had a career-high eight shots on goal and once he had seven. He took four shots and scored his first goal of the season Monday night in the Islanders win over St. Louis and had one game this season when he took five shots. But if you remember Sidney Crosby early in his career, there were two knocks on his play. One was that he didn’t shoot enough and the other was that he didn’t win enough faceoffs. And Barzal is also guilty as charged on both accounts. He has never been even close to a 50 percent success rate in the dot and this year is no exception. When asked prior to the season about the NHL’s new faceoff rules allowing players to choose their strong side on offensive zone draws in certain situations, Barzal said he wasn’t even aware of the changes.
“Personally, I’ve kind of struggled (with) both sides,” Barzal said during the NHL’s pre-season media tour. “I haven’t really found my strong side yet. The obvious reason is just there are men out there and I’m 22 years old. So that’s one thing, the strength alone. But I’d say it’s just a mindset, for the most part. If you can really just put your mind on winning every single faceoff, I think you do a better job. Obviously some guys take it extremely serious. And they should. I need to start doing that as well.”
More goals could lead to bigger offensive numbers. Winning more faceoffs will make Barzal a better all-round player, one area in which he made some very significant strides last season. And all of that leads into what will be a very pivotal summer, that is if he doesn’t sign an extension with the Islanders before then. Barzal looked on with a certain amount of amusement during the summer when a slew of restricted free agents coming out of their entry-level contracts stared down their employers before signing at the last minute. Barzal could very well find himself in that same situation in the summer of 2020. He doesn’t seem terribly fazed by the uncertainty surrounding him.
“Not being in it and watching these guys, seeing the media and all these rumors,” Barzal said of the 2019 RFAs. “Everyone thinks they know what’s going on and, really, I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on. It doesn’t wear on me at all. It’s how it is. I’m not really looking at dollars. I’ve never played for dollars or anything. Playing in the playoffs last year, I’m hungry to get back to there and (the contract talk will) all take care of itself.”
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