Mathew Barzal has shown a consistent willingness to shoot — and had success in doing so — through his first three preseason games and during practices and scrimmages in Islanders’ training camp. That has not surprised linemate Bo Horvat.
“No, I just think he’s actually shooting,” Horvat said. “I think that was everybody’s knock on him before, that he doesn’t shoot the puck enough. He’s proven what kind of shot he’s had this preseason. He’s just got to continue shooting the puck. He’s got a lethal shot.”
Barzal had two goals on two shots – and five attempts overall – in the Islanders’ 6-5 loss to the Devils on Monday night at Prudential Center, converting a forehand on a breakaway to open the scoring at 3:44 of the first period, then bringing the Islanders within 5-4 just 11 seconds into the third period as he got to the right post to take Horvat’s feed.
Horvat’s mid-season acquisition from the Canucks forced Barzal from his longtime role as the top-line center to right wing but the two played just six games together before Barzal injured his knee. He returned in the playoffs but training camp is his first real chance to build a foundation at his new position.
Barzal, known for his elite skating ability and passing, also had three shots, plus two attempts blocked and two more that missed the net, in Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Rangers. He managed one shot and four attempts overall in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the visiting Flyers and earned the primary assist on Simon Holmtrom’s first-period goal. Barzal, in the slot, deflected defenseman Travis Mitchell’s blue-line shot before the puck glanced off Holmstrom’s body.
“I feel like I’m trying to play the same game, just different positions,” said Barzal, who had 14 goals and 37 assists in 58 games last season and who has only exceeded 20 goals once, in his rookie season of 2016-17. “I think me and Bo have adjusted pretty good reading off each other.
“It kind of forces me to forecheck a little more and win battles on the wall. I’m still getting used to it. You’re just in different situations. You get the puck at different angles.”
Barzal said he did not believe he was getting more shots because he’s playing right wing but his first-period breakaway was possible because he was playing closer to the blue line and along the wall in the offensive zone as the Devils tried to transition the puck up ice.
Barzal, starting an eight-year, $73.2 million extension while Horvat is in the first season of an eight-year, $68 million deal, was in the perfect spot to pick up the puck off defenseman Colin Miller’s turnover.
He was fifth on the team last season with 139 shots, but that still left him 83 behind team-leader Brock Nelson.
Coach Lane Lambert said he has noticed Barzal having more confidence in his shot, “maybe a little bit more than in the past.
“It’s part of his game that he needs because then he becomes even more dangerous.”