They were drafted the same night in south Florida nearly 31 months ago. They’ve been buddies ever since the days of Hockey Canada under-16 camps and tournaments, despite being from opposite sides of the country.
And on Saturday, they were the Killer B’s — swarming the Rangers under. Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier each scored twice in the Islanders’ 7-2 rout, combining with linemate Jordan Eberle to post 12 points between them and demonstrate that Barzal’s wondrous rookie season and Beauvillier’s up-and-down second NHL year could pay dividends with both 20-year-olds working side by side.
“When he’s playing his game, playing simple, winning battles, he’s a strong and fast kid,” Barzal said of Beauvillier. “He’s super easy to play with, especially when he’s strong and winning those battles, getting to pucks. He did a great job tonight.”
This was the second game that Beauvillier played in place of Andrew Ladd, who is sidelined indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Beauvillier had a goal, set up by Barzal, in the Isles’ 5-4 shootout win over the Devils last Sunday.
During the Islanders’ five-day break, Beauvillier went to Bridgeport for a second short stint. He only played three games in the AHL but came back after his most recent assignment looking like a player who didn’t want to experience minor-league life again.
“Anthony’s been a different person — his face, his confidence, everything,” coach Doug Weight said. “Just speaking with him this morning, he was like, ‘You were right, it was the greatest thing for me.’ He feels like a different player.”
And perhaps the pairing has rejuvenated Barzal. The young center has had a remarkable first 43 games, with a five-assist night in November and a hat trick just three weeks ago. But he had just one point during the Islanders’ five-game losing streak and whether he hit a rookie wall or was starting to encounter tougher assignments from opponents, he wasn’t as dominant as he’d been.
Barzal had two assists against the Devils and then broke out in the Garden on Saturday, joining Bryan Trottier as the only rookies in team history with multiple five-point games. His goals, which turned a 2-1 game into a 4-1 rout-in-waiting, were perfect for the relentless Barzal.
The first, his passing lane to Beauvillier closed off and he quickly cut across the slot to get Mika Zibanejad and Steven Kampfer stumbling before sending a backhand into the top corner. Just 3:34 later, Barzal took a feed from Beauvillier on a drive to the net, was stopped initially by Ondrej Pavelec but jammed home the rebound.
“People are going to play him different, he’s going to get more attention, go through some frustrations,” Weight said. “He was predictable in all zones, he wasn’t ripping and cutting back all over the ice, turning pucks over. Not that he’s been horrific, he’s had an unbelievable start to his career. But he was very cerebral in his own zone, low and slow and he got results from it. So that’s good for us.”
The good chemistry between the two friends bodes well for the Islanders once they start to get healthy. Ladd has been a strong presence with Barzal and Eberle, but perhaps this new Beauvillier-Barzal-Eberle line would allow Ladd to shore up the third line with more skill and strength.
Simply having Beauvillier in a confident frame of mind will be a big boost to the Islanders depth. After seven points in his first 31 games, his four points the last two should help.
“It’s all in the head,” Beauvillier said. “I went down there, playing a lot of minutes and even though it was just for three games, just feels good. I think I found my identity back. I found a way I can have success playing hockey again.”