Barry Trotz isn’t ready to bring in a psychologist to coax more offense from his top trio of Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle as the Islanders prepare to face the Capitals in a best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
In fact, after watching how the line performed in the Islanders’ clinching, 5-1, Game 4 win over the Panthers in their best-of-five qualifying series, Trotz is confident his top line can be more productive offensively.
It’s almost a must-have for the Islanders in this series as they go against goal-machine Alex Ovechkin and a balanced, dangerous Capitals’ attack. Barzal had a goal in Game 4 and two assists in the series, Eberle had two goals in Game 2 plus an assist in the series while Lee was held without a point.
Game 1 against the Capitals is Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
“This is so much different than a regular season when you had chances to produce all year,” Trotz said on Monday of the unique playoff circumstances after the regular season was halted on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “You’re coming in basically blind. Offensive guys put more pressure on themselves because the window is smaller and when was the last time you scored a meaningful goal in the NHL? They want that feeling.
“[That line] was getting chances,” Trotz added. “We keep preaching that if you’re getting chances in the offensive end, they’ll end up in the back of the net eventually. I think we’re OK there. We have no issues worrying about getting a psych coach.”
Barzal’s line did have a strong series against the Panthers defensively, another must-have against Ovechkin et. al.
“Maybe the production of the last series, numbers-wise, wasn’t quite there until the last game,” Barzal said. “There were definitely chances, pucks sitting on the goal line or shots Bob [Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky] made a wicked save on. Those pucks go in, people would think offensively we’re producing. I liked the way our line got pucks deep. We got in trouble when I tried to do too much in the neutral zone.”
Barzal made his NHL playoff debut last season with two goals and five assists as the Islanders swept the Penguins in the first round and then were swept by the Hurricanes.
Throughout that run, and often this season, Barzal would talk about how much he enjoyed the playoff competition and craved further success in the postseason.
“I’ll take his mindset that he had in Game 4,” Trotz said of Barzal. “He was using his speed. He wasn’t wasting his energy trying to do everything else. He had the puck more and he was dangerous. He’s learned in the playoffs there’s not a lot of room. I thought he did really well as the series went on and he’s done it better each year. He’s realizing he can have the puck and be more efficient when you do give it up.”
Notes & quotes: Trotz said it was “highly probable” defenseman Johnny Boychuk would be available for Game 1 against the Capitals. He practiced for a second straight day after exiting Game 1 against the Panthers with a suspected head injury. “He’s made great progress,” Trotz said…Defenseman John Carlson participated in the Capitals’ optional practice on Monday. “He seems to be taking steps in the right direction,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. The Norris Trophy candidate has not played since exiting the exhibition game against the Hurricanes on July 29…The NHL reported no positives last week among the 7,245 COVID-19 tests administered to all NHL personnel in the two hub city bubbles.