Oliver Wahlstrom carried the puck into the Rangers’ zone, peeled back and got it onto the stick of Mathew Barzal. The slick-skating center got to the crease, shifted the puck from his forehand to his backhand and lifted a shot over goalie Igor Shesterkin.
It was career point No. 300 for Barzal and another sign that his line with Wahlstrom and Zach Parise is improving its chemistry.
“The last couple of games, they’ve got some points off the forecheck,” coach Barry Trotz said after the Islanders’ 3-0 win on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. “They get a loose puck and they turn it into offense. It was really good.”
Barzal, who also set up Matt Martin’s second-period goal, has two goals and four assists in a three-game point streak. Barzal and Parise set up Wahlstrom’s goal in Thursday night’s 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets at UBS Arena.
Friday marked the 12th game since Trotz put the trio together.
“I think it just comes down to chemistry with our line,” said Barzal, who has seven goals and 10 assists in 12 career games at the Garden. “It’s been a bit of a blender this year just with guys injured and so many different situations. We’ve had some solid games with our line.”
These last two games have been prime examples of why the line can work. There had been mixed reviews before that, even though pairing the slick-skating, playmaking Barzal with the sharpshooting Wahlstrom has long seemed like an intriguing option.
Trotz said earlier in the season that he was hesitant to try it because Barzal’s style can be tough to anticipate on the ice. There also were some defensive concerns, especially if the line had to play against the opponent’s top trio.
At times, Wahlstrom has seemed unsure of how to anticipate Barzal’s moves. Lately, he has been more assertive with his game.
“Early on, when our line got put together, Wahlly was really just focused on shooting and being a goal-scorer,” Barzal said. “I think you’ve seen the last couple of games, he’s been probably one of our best forecheckers. He’s been playing a lot more plays with the puck, passing it and finding guys. I think he’s got the potential to be a really good player in this league and, so far, I’ve enjoyed playing with them.”
Barzal has two goals and nine assists in his last 12 games. Parise has four goals and one assist in that span and Wahlstrom has two goals and an assist.
“I think it’s just kind of read off of him,” Wahlstrom said. “He’s unbelievable coming up the neutral zone. Just read him and find those soft areas and get myself open. He takes two guys and I’ve just got to find that back side or the slot and he’ll get the puck there.”
Notes & quotes: Semyon Varlamov started on back-to-back nights for the first time as an Islander and made 27 saves to shut out the Rangers for the fourth straight time at the Garden. Last season, Varlamov became the first goalie in NHL history to shut out the Rangers three times at the Garden in one season . . . Ilya Sorokin (upper-body injury) skated on his own on Friday but remains day-to-day . . . Butch Goring returned to the MSG Networks broadcast booth after missing time because of a procedure on his shoulder . . . Defenseman Andy Greene participated in the pregame warmups but was held out of the lineup for a second straight game . . . Defenseman Robin Salo was returned to Bridgeport from emergency recall . . . Ross Johnston matched his career high with six points as he got the secondary assist on Martin’s goal . . . Casey Cizikas’ first-period goal gave him 199 career points.