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Islanders striking a balance with goal-scoring ability

Mathew Barzal #13 of the Islanders celebrates his

Mathew Barzal #13 of the Islanders celebrates his second period goal against the Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Mar. 6, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Here’s a statistic that runs counter to the Islanders’ reputation for lacking offense in their defensive-minded system under coach Barry Trotz: They were the only team in the NHL to have five players with nine or more goals entering Tuesday night’s game against the Bruins at Nassau Coliseum.

True, 15 goals spread equally in their three-game sweep of the last-place Sabres, completed with Sunday’s third straight 5-2 win at the Coliseum, helps on the scoresheet.

But the statistic does speak to the overall production balance the East Division-leading Islanders have gotten from all four of their lines. And it’s not just grind-it-out goals. Mathew Barzal’s incredible between-the-legs individual effort in Saturday’s victory will be a leading candidate for the league’s most sensational goal this season.

Perhaps continued offensive flair could change the narrative of the Islanders winning in a boring fashion.

"I hope so," said Jordan Eberle, one of the five players with at least nine goals entering Tuesday. "You look at our roster and the way that we play. We’re a detailed team. We think defense first and we try to frustrate teams. That’s our identity.

"Ultimately, you have to put the puck to the net," Eberle added. "When you talk about a full team, a full lineup, that just goes to show we have that many players who are contributing each night. We try to run a four-line based system and when we’re at our best, we’re rolling four lines and trying to roll over teams. You can say we’re not exciting, but you’ve seen some of the goals. Barzy’s goal the other night. We have some skill in this locker room."

Eberle and Barzal both entered Tuesday’s game with nine goals. Anders Lee, the third member of the top line, was leading the Islanders with 12 goals and had scored in three of the previous four games.

Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the second- and third-line centers, respectively, also entered Tuesday with nine goals apiece.

The Canadiens were the only NHL team to have four players with at least nine goals entering Tuesday, albeit three in double digits. The Oilers, Blackhawks, Bruins and Hurricanes each had three players with at least nine goals.

Eberle, Barzal, Lee and Nelson were all with the Islanders in 2017-18 — the season before Trotz took over — when the team was eighth in the NHL with 264 goals scored but allowed a league-worst 296. The Islanders allowed a league-low 196 goals in Trotz’s first season.

Entering Tuesday as Trotz became just the third coach in NHL history to reach 1,700 games, the Islanders were 14th in the NHL with 73 goals scored but fifth in the league with a plus-17 goal differential.

"The biggest thing we needed to work on was in the defensive zone," Eberle said of Trotz’s message when he took over the team after winning the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018. "I played against his teams in Nashville and they were not easy teams to play. You didn’t have a lot of space, you didn’t have a lot of time and they played very detailed hockey. Barry, coming off winning the Stanley Cup in Washington, you just respected him and tried to soak in as much as you could from him.

"He’s done a really good job of getting the message across of the way we want to play and when we have success, how we’re doing it," Eberle added. "He’s put that format in place for us and the guys have done a good job adapting to it."

And learning to create offense out of defense.

New York Sports