Islanders hopeful of Mathew Barzal's return, but there is no timetable
The hope, Lane Lambert explained, is for Mathew Barzal to return before the end of the regular season.
The calendar, though, may make that an unrealized dream.
Barzal did not participate in the Islanders’ practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow Friday, and it is unclear exactly when he will rejoin the team.
“He’s working hard to get back,” Lambert said. “Right now the focus is on the players that are in the lineup as opposed to players that are not in the lineup. He does — and is doing —whatever anybody else who gets injured does: Get ready and work hard and hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
Barzal suffered the injury in the first period of the Islanders’ 6-2 loss to the NHL-best Bruins on Feb. 18 in Boston, when he was checked into the half boards by Craig Smith. During a stoppage of play in the game, Barzal attempted to skate but was unable to do so. He has neither practiced nor played since then.
Without their top-line right wing for their last 17 games, the Islanders (39-28-9) have compiled an 11-4-2 record and enter Saturday night’s match in Tampa Bay against the Lightning (44-26-6) holding the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of Pittsburgh (87-84) and four points ahead of Florida (87-83).
The Islanders, who have six games remaining in their regular season, have won two straight and three-out-of-their-last five (3-1-1), earning seven out of a possible 10 points.
“Really important games [are] coming up so we have to be ready, and keep this thing rolling,” said Pierre Engvall. “We do a lot of good things. We [have] a really good structure.”
Still, as Zach Parise argued, reinserting Barzal and his near point-a-game pace (he has 14 goals and 37 assists for 51 points in 58 games this season) should benefit the Islanders, and Bo Horvat in particular.
Barzal and Horvat make up two-thirds of what is ostensibly the Islanders’ top line, and according to data culled by the analytics website Natural Stat Trick, the pair combined for four goals and two assists for six points in seven games, while outshooting opponents 51-30.
“I really thought [he] and Horvat had some good chemistry when they were playing together,” Parise said. “And it’s just the trickle down effect. He plays on the top power play, [a] dynamic forward [whose] return will help out our scoring. It’ll help out the team a lot.”
Notes & quotes: It is likely that Ilya Sorokin will start against the Lightning . . . During the practice, the Islanders announced Aidan Fulp and Travis Mitchell signed two-year, two-way entry-level contracts with the organization. The deals begin in 2023-24, so neither player is available to help out the Islanders or the Bridgeport Islanders for the remainder of the NHL and/or AHL regular seasons and playoffs. Both Fulp and Mitchell are defensemen. Fulp compiled a 2-13-15 slashline in 38 games this season, and totaled four goals and 34 assists for 38 points in three seasons with Western Michigan. Mitchell had six goals and 13 assists for 19 points with Cornell in 2022-23, and has a three-year career slashline of 11-36-47.