Mathew Barzal, penalty killer?
Well, not quite yet. But if coach Barry Trotz can right the Islanders’ penalty-kill unit, which was historically bad last season, the coach said he would eventually look to incorporate scoring threats. He did so last season with the Capitals with top-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“He would probably come out the last 20, 30 seconds,” Trotz said. “On the back half, more skilled, high-octane guys can fill a role because you can catch the other power-play group a little tired.”
The Islanders were just 2-for-4 on the penalty kill but beat the Rangers, 4-3, in overtime on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in their penultimate preseason game on Anthony Beauvillier’s short-side goal against Henrik Lundqvist 53 seconds into the extra period.
Trotz has worked heavily on special teams this week after the Islanders, under Doug Weight last season, ranked last in the NHL on the penalty kill at 73.2 percent, the worst in the league in nearly 30 years. Only seven teams had fewer than their five shorthanded goals.
Trotz said he’s not ready to put Barzal, his 21-year-old center who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year with 22 goals and 63 assists, on the penalty kill now. But Trotz said he would start using Barzal’s current linemates, Beauvillier and Josh Bailey, as well as second-line center Brock Nelson.
“Beau is probably the first guy out of the block,” Trotz said. “He’s got a really good balance of offense and defense. That’s where we’re trying to get to with Barzy. He’s a guy I’d love to get out there. Any time you can get your top guys out there more and make it more dangerous, you want to do that.”
Trotz said Barzal still needs a better understanding of some of the penalty-kill basics, including faceoffs and positioning, before being tried out.
“Penalty kill or not, I’m just going to go out there and work hard and play my game,” Barzal said. “If I get the call one day to play the penalty kill, I’ll adapt and try my best. As for right now, we’ve got a lot of good killers.”
The Islanders specifically signed veteran free-agent forwards Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov to bolster the penalty kill, and fourth-liners Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck have been staples.
But Trotz said he might also use bottom-six forwards Matt Martin and Ross Johnston. And offensive-minded defenseman Ryan Pulock has also gotten a look in preseason.
“I actually feel pretty comfortable out there,” said Pulock, who logged 2:32 on the penalty kill and scored twice on blue-line slap shots, including a power-play goal. “I’d love to be a part of the penalty kill all year and see where it goes.”
Notes & quotes: Goalie Robin Lehner made 21 saves in his second complete game of the preseason . . . Defenseman Thomas Hickey added a goal and Bailey, Barzal and Filppula each had two assists . . . Pulock has four goals in four preseason games . . . Left wing Andrew Ladd (tightness) missed his ninth straight practice but did skate on his own.