Mathew Barzal will always consider himself a “pass-first guy,” a playmaker who creates opportunities for his teammates.
Still, he had the design of his CCM stick changed this season to help him score more goals.
“I just made it a little whippier and changed my curve a little bit, put a little more hook on it,” Barzal said. “Not too drastic, just a little nick on it. It gives me a little toe to suck it in and shoot it a little better.”
So far, the change has worked. Barzal had six goals and five assists through the Islanders’ first 12 games. It’s all part of coach Barry Trotz preaching to Barzal to shoot more in order to be less predictable to opponents.
“It feels weird having more goals than assists right now,” Barzal said. “I’ve never had that, never been like that before. It’s not something I necessarily want. My game revolves around passing. If I can get more goals, that’s great. But I’m not looking to be a 40-goal, 20-assist guy. My game is still trying to make players around me better.”
Barzal is a brilliant puckhandler who often has defenders chasing him futilely around the opponent’s zone. In the past, those stickhandling displays sometimes led to turnovers instead of scoring opportunities because Barzal stayed on the perimeter. This season, he’s made a concerted effort to get closer to the crease.
And his new stick certainly came in handy when he was able to whip in a one-timer for a power-play goal in a 3-1 win at Winnipeg on Oct. 17.
It was suggested to Barzal that, after scoring 22 goals as a rookie — with 63 assists —and 18 goals last season, 30 might be within reach.
“I think I’m still a pass-first guy,” Barzal said. “Thirty goals, I’ve never been there before. It’s not necessarily a goal of mine. If I can one day reach that mark and solidify myself as a guy that can put the puck in the net and dish the puck, that’s kind of what I want to evolve into.”
Injures are a part of NHL life. Scrappy right wing Cal Clutterbuck knows this as well as anyone, especially after offseason back surgery and the possibility before undergoing the procedure he might not be able to play again.
But Clutterbuck most likely spoke for all his teammates, particularly Matt Martin, in expressing frustration that his linemate suffered a lower-body injury at Ottawa on Oct. 25 when Martin’s left knee crashed into the wall because the door to the Senators’ bench was not properly latched. The door flew open when J.C. Beaudin checked Martin into the boards.
“A guy gets hurt through the course of the game, it’s one thing,” Clutterbuck said. “It’s another thing for him to get hurt in a circumstance like that. It’s disappointing for sure.”
As Martin was helped from the ice, Clutterbuck voiced his displeasure to several Senators, particularly Mark Borowiecki and those two wrestled later in the second period. Clutterbuck received a 10-minute misconduct in addition to the roughing minors.
A day later in the Islanders’ dressing room, Clutterbuck and captain Anders Lee wondered why there needed to be doors for the teams’ benches. They opined most players prefer hopping over the wall anyway.
Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg formally announced his retirement after 15 seasons this week and promptly joined the Islanders’ player development department. He last played in 2017-18, though he spent the end of last season on the Islanders’ roster.
As Barzal’s game continues to grow, some of that development can still be traced back to Seidenberg. Barzal lived with Seidenberg and his family as a rookie.
“When you get to live with a good pro like that, it gives you a sense of how far you have to come,” Trotz said. “How important taking care of yourself on and off the ice is to success. He’s a great role model to those young guys he’s had living with him.”
It’s not called Brocktober for nothing. Center Brock Nelson has typically had fast starts to the season:
2019-20 – 11 games, four goals, six assists
2018-19 – 11 games, six goals, one assist
2017-18 – 12 games, five goals, three assists
2016-17 – Nine games, three goals, six assists
2015-16 – 11 games, two goals, three assists
2014-15 – Ten games, six goals, six assists
2013-14 – Seven games, one goal, two assists
Picked from the pod
Episode 5 of Island Ice, Newsday’s Islanders podcast, featured an interview with Anders Lee. He gave his thoughts on the team’s start and ability to bank some points early in the season, his comfort level with a new, seven-year, $49 million deal plus an update on his cousin, injured Giants rookie linebacker Ryan Connelly.
Lee also provided some insight into why linemate Mathew Barzal has gotten off to a strong start.
“Just a clear head and the confidence that he’s playing with is really taking him really far,” Lee told Island Ice. “I don’t think he has a limit on his potential. I think he’s just continuing to get better and you can see that in his game and developing all areas of it.”