The early returns on the reconfigured top line of Mathew Barzal between Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle bodes well for the Islanders’ final 10-game push for the playoffs. As much as the Isles are comfortable playing in tight, low-scoring defensive battles, consistent offensive production still is a must.
The Islanders, who did not practice Monday after back-to-back road games during the weekend, have 91 points and will enter Tuesday night’s game against the Bruins at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum atop the Metropolitan Division based on a goal-differential tiebreaker with the Capitals. The defending Stanley Cup champs also have 91 points and are at New Jersey on Tuesday. The third-place Penguins, three points back, are at Carolina.
“For the most part, it’s been positive,” said Eberle, who snapped an 17-game goal-less drought off Barzal’s cross-ice feed in the first period of Sunday’s 3-2 overtime win at Minnesota. “Anders, he’s scored every game and we’ve kind of created a ton.”
The Islanders were 20th in the league with 206 goals entering Monday, a testament to how their defensive structure has carried their game.
The Islanders (42-23-7) have won three of four since coach Barry Trotz placed Barzal between Lee and Eberle, his linemate from last season. Lee has a four-game goal streak. On Sunday, Eberle became the first forward other than Lee to score a goal in the past five games. Barzal had two assists, also setting up Brock Nelson’s overtime winner, and has three assists in the past four games. He’s been stuck on 17 goals for 14 games but matched his season high with eight shots in Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 loss at Detroit.
“Barzy and I, we play similar games,” Eberle said. “We like to play give-and-go. We like to play quick, shifty hockey. He’s able to find me and I’m able to find him. From day one last year, we’ve played well together, so it’s nice to be back.
“He’s driving the net and driving the play a little bit more.”
The key will be turning the promising signs into a top line that can dominate five-on-five play and push the rest of the lineup. For the most part this season, the fourth line of Casey Cizikas between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, when healthy, has set the team’s identity.
“It can be very good for us,” Trotz said of Barzal’s line. “Barzy has the jets. Leesy has the strength down low. You can have a couple of good ones. It’s can you have a couple more good ones and build that chemistry?”
Greiss honored. Goalie Thomas Greiss was named the NHL’s first star of the week after going 3-1-0 with one shutout while compiling a 1.25 goals-against average and a .959 save percentage. Overall, he is 22-12-2 with a 2.21 GAA and a .928 save percentage, and he entered Monday fourth in the league in both categories. Blackhawks left wing Brendan Perlini, with five goals and two assists in three games, was the second star. Oilers captain Connor McDavid, with three goals and six assists in four games, was the third star.