ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mathew Barzal and Steve Konowalchuk were together for four years in Seattle, where Konowalchuk was coach and Barzal was one of the core members of the Western League team. Their time together culminated in a WHL championship last spring, with Barzal named playoff MVP.
On Wednesday, they reunited in a way. Barzal came to town with the Islanders, his first full pro season after two strong training camps and a brief stay at the start of last season. Konowalchuk, who played for 12 years in the NHL, was on the opposite bench, in his first season on Randy Carlyle’s staff with the Ducks.
“It’s pretty cool to see both of us climb the ranks,” Barzal said before the Isles faced the Ducks late Wednesday here. Asked what he took away from his time with Konowalchuk, Barzal added: “Consistency and work ethic. That’s what he prided himself on in his career. He brought that down to us. Whether it was practice, morning skate, a workout, you weren’t taking a second off. He just made everybody accountable.”
Konowalchuk saw some of the same traits in Barzal, especially after he returned to Seattle following his month with the Isles. Barzal only got into two games and barely played in either one; any player could have been excused for moping a bit once back in the junior leagues.
“His attitude was great,” Konowalchuk said. “We didn’t know if we were going to get a few of our leaders back [from the NHL]. We had a goal to win a championship. And he didn’t go through the motions. He came and worked on his game, led the way, a top 1-2 forward in our league and a huge reason why we won.”
Barzal posted 10 goals and 69 assists in just 41 games and, despite a bout with mononucleosis late in the season, garnered playoff MVP honors with seven goals and 18 assists.
“He’s a game break guy,” Konowalchuk said. “When it’s tight or a series would get tight, you’d just say, ‘Matty, one more notch.’ He’s a player that wants the puck on his stick and more often than not he was able to do that.”
That hasn’t changed much now that he’s become an integral part of the Islanders’ offense. He led the team with seven points in the preseason and, despite heading into Wednesday’s game still searching for his first NHL point, he’s tied for fourth on the team with eight shots on goal.
“He’s played well, he’s got to get back that little more explosiveness carrying the puck, give and go’s,” Doug Weight said. “The good thing about our young guys is when they tend to struggle the kind of want the puck more than they don’t. Where a lot of guys it’s the opposite. But I don’t think Matty’s struggling. A couple bounces here and there he’d have 2-3 points and he continues to want the puck, to carry the puck and create chances for his linemates. I told him don’t worry about the numbers, I like the way he’s playing.”
That may not always suffice for a 20-year-old accustomed to piling up points, but Barzal is trying to keep things in perspective.
“I see the chances created every game, that stuff will come,” he said. “I thought they were a decent three games as a team, we had some glimpses. At the same time I’d love to be on the board. It’s all about winning and doing all I can to help this team.”
Notes & quotes: Weight gave Jaroslav Halak the start in goal on Wednesday and kept the same skaters as Monday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Blues. Cal Clutterbuck (hip) is still not ready to return and missed his third straight game and defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Ryan Pulock were healthy scratches. Pulock, 22, has yet to play this season, though Weight said, “Pulie will get in. I just decided to stay with this group.”