Mathew Barzal prides himself on being someone who can play on a line with anyone. At the same time, he acknowledges it would be nice for his linemates to be the same from game to game.
"I would love some concrete chemistry with somebody," the Islanders’ star center said after practice on Monday. "Just rotating guys in and out, sometimes it’s hard to get that chemistry in."
He was responding to a question about the recent instability at right wing alongside him and Anders Lee, a group that has included Zach Parise, Kieffer Bellows, Josh Bailey and Austin Czarnik. T
he plot thickened when NYI Hockey Now reported that Barzal and Lee worked on different lines during Monday’s practice, with Barzal centering for Bellows and Bailey and Lee with Brock Nelson and Czarnik.
(Anthony Beauvillier missed practice for what Barry Trotz called a "maintenance day.")
Trotz later said that while he has had Lee and Barzal "stapled together" as a longtime pair, "I think there are times you can keep doing the same thing and it’ll work for a few years and then it stops working.
"So sometimes you just need a little refresher. You get them away from each other for a bit and put them back together at some point and they sort of rekindle the joy in their lines."
Barzal always has been a tricky fit for linemates because of his unique style, which includes extended periods of puck possession and unpredictable skating patterns. Lee spoke of the challenge just last week.
Jordan Eberle was Barzal’s right wing last season but left for the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Barzal gushed about Eberle’s talent and smarts when asked about him on Monday.
"It’s nice to have a line that you’ve been with for a little bit, but again, this is the NHL," he said. "You’ve got to adapt and play with whoever’s up there."
Asked what sort of winger would be most likely to thrive with him, he referred the question to Trotz.
"When we lose a game or whatever, sometimes lines get shaken up," Barzal said. "It seems to be that my line and Nellie’s line a little bit are the ones getting moved around a little bit. But at the end of the day, we need to produce, and when we’re not producing, that’s going to happen."
Trotz said he spoke to Barzal about this last week and seeks his feedback on potential linemates.
"I said, I’ve been doing this for a long time and sometimes you — I call it ‘throw spaghetti on the wall’ a little bit — and you throw a name in there with two guys and you go, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to work.’ And it works," Trotz said. "It is a strange brew that you put together that sometimes works.
So over a long season, there’s times to sort of, it’s not really get their attention, but refresh them a little bit."
Ideally, Trotz said, there is "no question" that using regular lines is a positive, assuming they are clicking.
"When a guy’s hot, I’m not touching that line," he said. "If a line’s hot, I’m not touching it. But if it’s a little cooler, then I try to look for a different answer or a different solution, and then usually go back to what was working at some point."