Mathew Barzal flicked the puck into the net from in close with 8:38 left in Saturday’s game against Winnipeg, and suddenly it was raining hats on the ice at Barclays Center.
The Islanders’ standout rookie center had just done something new. Barzal, 20, scored his first career hat trick — all set up by Jordan Eberle. That went nicely with 38 saves by Jaroslav Halak.
After a mostly trying month, the Islanders emerged with a 5-2 win and some positive thoughts to carry into the NHL’s three-day Christmas break.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Barzal said. “Nice to do it in a win. I got some good passes that I was fortunate enough to bury . . . I’ll look back on it for sure.”
Barzal became the 11th rookie in Islanders history to score three goals in a game and the first since Michael Grabner on Feb. 13, 2011, against Buffalo. He also became the youngest Islander with a hat trick since John Tavares on Jan. 15, 2011.
With his first career multi-goal game, Barzal has 12 goals. His gifts of skating, puck handling and scoring were on display for the holiday season.
“We know how he skates and controls the play,” Doug Weight said. “But he’s got composure at a young age. He’s got a lot of confidence right now. It’s fun to watch him.”
Barzal’s 23 assists and 35 points — in 36 games — ranked first among NHL rookies heading into Saturday night’s games.
“I think his biggest attributes are speed and being able to turn on a dime and keep continuous speed,” Eberle said. “A lot of players can’t do that. So he creates some space for himself that way and brings a lot of guys to him and gives [Andrew] Ladd and I space.
“I think [today] he showed he can finish and the all-around player he is.”
The Islanders (19-13-4) showed up with the second-most goals in the NHL and the second-most goals allowed. They had gone 3-6-2 in December, yielding at least four goals eight times, including five or six goals six times. But the goalies, Halak and Thomas Greiss, weren’t the only ones to blame.
“I don’t think I struggled or anything,” Halak said. “When you look at the goals, you’ve got to look where they’re coming from. If you keep them on the outside, there’s a good chance I will stop the pucks.”
The Isles’ power play went to work 1:16 into the game, and it took only 15 seconds to cash in. Josh Bailey sent the puck toward the net from the right circle and Anders Lee hammered the rebound past Steve Mason for his team-leading 22nd goal.
After falling into a 2-0 hole six times this month, the Islanders went up 2-0 with only 2:20 gone. Barzal converted from the left doorstep.
“I played like this in junior,” Barzal said. “Dougie gives me some freedom offensively. So it’s been great.”
Tucker Poolman chopped the lead in half with a shot from the right point that sailed past the screened Halak at 13:42.
Barzal then made a nifty move around Bryan Little and carried the puck through the right circle and behind the goal line. A bank shot for a goal wasn’t his intent. But he flipped the puck off a defender’s skate in front and it caromed in for a 3-1 lead with 35.7 seconds on the clock.
“Sometimes that’s just the way it works,” Barzal said. “You throw pucks at the net, good things happen.”
Barzal finished his hat trick off Eberle’s feed from behind the goal line. Anthony Beauvillier, who was scratched for the previous game, made it 5-1 with 4:59 left. Adam Lowry closed the scoring with 1:36 to go.
“We’ve shown that we have the firepower to win hockey games,” Eberle said. “But especially down the stretch, late in the season, all the games are 2-1, 3-2. You need to learn how to win those ways. Against a really good Winnipeg hockey club, we found a way to limit them to two.”
Mathew Barzal, at 20 years, 211 days, is the youngest Islander to score a hat trick since John Tavares (20 years, 117 days) on Jan. 15, 2011, against Buffalo. He is the 11th Islander rookie to do so and the first since Michael Grabner on Feb. 13, 2011, vs. the Sabres. His 2017 numbers:
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