COLUMBUS, Ohio — Paul Maurice was trying to pay the Islanders a compliment, indicating how they stifled opponents defensively with their “heavy” style.
But when the Jets coach said, “they’ve got a high-end offensive line. They’ve got almost three checking lines and an offensive line,” he also spoke the truth of top-line center Mathew Barzal’s absolute importance to any Islanders’ success.
Barzal scored two goals, one on the power play, in Thursday night’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at Winnipeg. The Islanders (4-3-0), who have won three straight, conclude their two-game road trip on Saturday night against the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. They had Friday off.
“I’m just trying to shoot a little bit more,” said Barzal, who has three goals and three assists and has been urged by Barry Trotz since the coach took the job last season to have more of a shoot-first mentality. His goal with 17.0 seconds left in the second period on Thursday to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead came as he kept the puck on a two-on-one rush.
Barzal, 22, connected on two of his three shots against the Jets. Center Brock Nelson is the team-leader with 22 shots but Barzal is second with 18 after finishing fourth last season with 179 and fifth with 170 as a rookie in 2017-18 when he won the Calder Trophy with 22 goals and 63 assists.
And after being on the ice for just one of the Islanders’ first nine goals this season, Barzal has been on the ice for six of the Islanders’ eight goals over the last three games as he’s notched three goals and two assists.
That includes four goals skating five-on-five, one on the power play and one in a three-on-three overtime.
“I’m just trying to get the puck and trying to play my game,” Barzal said. “I’ve got good linemates. I’m trying to feed them a little bit as well. The chemistry has been pretty good.”
Barzal has been with captain Anders Lee since the season opener and they’ve been joined the last two games by right wing Tom Kuhnhackl with Jordan Eberle out with a lower-body injury.
One intriguing possibility if Eberle remains out for a longer stretch might be elevating rookie Oliver Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018, to Barzal’s line. Wahlstrom has played his first two NHL games since his recall from the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport on Derick Brassard’s third line and has shown both a knack for unleashing quick wrist shots and for getting to the crease.
“There’s no agenda,” Trotz said. “I’ll put [Wahlstrom] with people that will support him and where he might fit and his play will dictate whether he goes up or down the lineup.”
Barzal and Wahlstrom played on different power-play units the last two games. The Islanders are 4-for-12 overall on the man advantage but have gotten just three opportunities in the last three games.
“We’ve got to find a way to draw more penalties,” left wing Josh Bailey said.