Mathew Barzal is going in the right direction.
The Islanders center has been skating north-south more, hockey parlance for a straight line to the crease.
“His game is more predictable, and it helps us out,” said linemate Jordan Eberle after the Islanders beat the Sabres, 5-1, on Saturday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum to clinch a playoff spot. “He’s not swinging around and we know what he’s going to do.”
Barzal, again going hard to the net, set up the Islanders’ first goal as Eberle knocked in the rebound of his wrist shot at 7:41 of the first period.
“I thought the first two periods, we could’ve had at least five or six goals,” Barzal said. “The more we play together, it seems we get more chemistry. Lately, the pucks are going in.”
Barzal also played a key role in Thursday’s 5-4 comeback win at Winnipeg, skating down the seam to receive Eberle’s feed to bring the Islanders within 2-1 in the first period. His ability to work down low set up Eberle’s winner at 18:47 of the third period.
“Guys in this league will bait you into small areas,” added coach Barry Trotz, who has implored Barzal all season to shoot more. “The last thing you want to do is hang on to the puck and you run out of options. Now you’re making a hope play. When he’s playing that north-south game and pushing people back, he’s very effective.”
C Tanner Fritz (upper body) missed his second straight game. “It’s been something that we’re just trying to get it figured out a little bit,” Trotz said…Sabres RW Kyle Okposo, an Islander from 2008-16, played his first game at the Coliseum since leaving the team. “I still have a lot of really good memories there,” Okposo told The Buffalo News. “It’s an old barn. We always said, ‘It’s a dump, but it’s our dump,’ and we loved it. It was home…”...RW Cal Clutterbuck was named the Sid Payne Good Guy winner for media cooperation, as voted upon by the Islanders’ chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.