Mathew Barzal out indefinitely with lower-body injury, but Isles hope he will return this season
PITTSBURGH — The Islanders will have to make any playoff push without top-line playmaker Mathew Barzal.
The team announced before Monday night’s crucial 4-2 victory over the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena that Barzal is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. The team later clarified that the injury is considered week-to-week and the plan is for him to return before the end of this season.
Regardless, there’s no easy way to compensate for the loss of Barzal’s stickhandling, skating and playmaking abilities, both five-on-five and on the top power-play unit. He has 14 goals and 37 assists in 58 games.
“Barzy is a dynamic player, one that can change the projection of a game pretty quickly,” linemate Anders Lee said. “The way he handles the puck and possesses it, it’s a huge factor in our team’s success. Having him out is a big loss for right now.
“This will be a tough one to fill, but we can do it. We’ve got guys. We just have to have everyone step up, take a little bit more responsibility.”
Barzal was injured early in the first period of Saturday’s 6-2 loss in Boston. Craig Smith checked him into the wall, with Barzal appearing to hurt his knee.
He joins a long list of injured Islanders forwards. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (injured reserve/upper body) and Josh Bailey (upper body) did not make this trip. Oliver Wahlstrom (injured reserve/lower body) and Cal Clutterbuck (injured reserve/upper body) also are out indefinitely.
“Clearly a big hole for us in certain areas,” coach Lane Lambert said of Barzal’s extended absence. “Other guys have to step up to the plate and create some abilities to contribute and make up for what we’re missing.”
Barzal had transitioned well to right wing after Bo Horvat was acquired from the Canucks during the All-Star break to center the top line. Still, Barzal continued to push the line with the puck on his stick.
“There’s never a good time for somebody to get hurt, and this definitely isn’t one of those times,” Horvat said. “He’s a huge part of this team and a huge part of this offense. He’s going to be missed. We can’t have any excuses for ourselves. We’ve just got to go out there and play.”
The power play, after struggling through an extended 3-for-64 slump, went 6-for-19 in Horvat’s first seven games with the Islanders.
“He runs that at the half-wall and everything kind of goes through him,” Horvat said. “Things are going to have to change around and guys are going to have to play different positions they’re not used to.”
There also has to be a mental adjustment in knowing that Barzal will be out for a while.
“Probably a little bit,” Brock Nelson said. “We have a pretty tight-knit group that’s been together for a while. We got to see Barzy a little bit after and everyone’s checking in with him. He texted a couple of guys last night about just what we’re doing on the road.”