The similarities are striking: The stickhandling skills, the skating ability, the creativity, the confidence to squeeze into tight spots and make something happen, or maybe not.
And, the preference to pass first. Probably pass second, too.
Yes, center Mathew Barzal, 21, and right wing Josh Ho-Sang, 22, bring many of the same qualities to the Islanders’ organization. But thus far Barzal, selected 16th overall in 2015, has been able to do it on the NHL level, winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie last season, while Ho-Sang, picked 28th overall in 2014, has played more for Bridgeport (AHL).
This season, under new Islanders’ management led by president/general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz, both are being asked to shoot more and to do less daring stickhandling that can sometimes lead to a turnover.
“Absolutely, they’re similar,” Trotz said. “They’re pass first. A little bit too much one-on-one sometimes early in their careers. But they’ve got a great skill set.
“You still have to have the second pitch,” Trotz added, making an analogy to a pitcher in baseball who relies too much on his fastball. “Everybody knows you’re passing. If the goalie knows you’re passing, they’re so good, they’re already setting up for the next play.”
Entering Saturday, Barzal had three goals and 22 assists in 30 games for the Islanders while Ho-Sang, recalled from Bridgeport on Dec. 9, had two goals and 20 assists in 26 games for the Sound Tigers. Trotz has noted, at separate times, he wants to see more goal production from both.
Barzal was fourth on the team with 62 shots through the Islanders’ first 30 games and second among their forwards behind captain Anders Lee’s team-leading 84 shots. Defensemen Johnny Boychuk (71) and Ryan Pulock (63) were second and third.
Ho-Sang was 15th on the Sound Tigers with 29 shots through his first 26 AHL games this season. Left wing Chris Bourque was leading Bridgeport with 71 shots in his first 25 games.
Ho-Sang said working on his shot is not an overnight flick-of-the-switch.
“It’s a process,” Ho-Sang said. “It’s years. It’s not one of the things you work on for a month and then you stop. You’re shooting every day.”
But he also made it clear his preference for compiling assists.
“They’re more rewarding,” Ho-Sang said. “You’re helping out a friend.
“Sometimes, I wonder why there needs to be so much balance,” Ho-Sang added. “I think if you have an exceptional playmaker and he creates, he should be with guys who can score. I think it kind of goes hand in hand.”
One area where Barzal probably could generate more shots is on the Islanders’ first power-play unit. For the most part, Trotz has had Barzal playing along the left half-wall, where he’s most comfortable and can quarterback the man advantage.
In a 3-2 shootout loss to the Penguins on Monday at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, Barzal did line up a slap shot during a four-on-three overtime power play even though he usually takes wrist shots.
Trotz said, “Our whole bench, they were like, ‘Did he just slap a puck?’”
The Islanders are splitting contests between NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center for a stretch of 18 games from Dec. 1-Feb. 16. They played all of their home games at Barclays Center prior to Dec. 1 and will play all of their home games at the Coliseum after Feb. 16.
Until the shift to the Coliseum, the only times the Islanders will spend an entire multi-game homestand at one of their two arenas is back-to-back games against the Lightning and Kings in Uniondale, Feb. 1-2, and afternoon games against the Avalanche and Wild in Brooklyn, Feb. 9-10.
Lee insists the Islanders aren’t losing any home-ice advantage as a result.
“I think we all understand what each building brings,” Lee said. “We’ve played (in Brooklyn) the last three years and the Coliseum is our home, so we’re used to it. It’s obviously different and you don’t see this going on. But I don’t think it makes a difference for how we approach each game or how we feel on the ice.”
Trotz was detailing some examples of what makes the NHL a copycat league in terms of strategy — the Devils’ neutral-zone trap of the 1990s, the way his Capitals defended the Penguins’ power play in the 2018 playoffs, e.g. — when he opened a door to his wardrobe.
“It’s a copycat league and it keeps evolving,” Trotz said. “It’s almost like fashion. Whatever was in 20 years ago is the same stuff I’m wearing now. It sort of comes back a little bit into vogue.”
Bailing them out
The Islanders were 1-3 in shootouts entering Saturday and only right wing Josh Bailey had been successful on a shootout attempt. Here’s how the individual Islanders had fared:
Player Shootout goals/Attempts Game-Deciding Goals
Josh Bailey 2/4 1
Mathew Barzal 0/3 0
Valtteri Filppula 0/3 0
Brock Nelson 0/3 0
Jordan Eberle 0/2 0
Anthony Beauvillier 0/1 0
Leo Komarov 0/1 0