Mathew Barzal would prefer to downplay his accomplishment.
Playing in 300 NHL games is nice, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s clear that other things are at the front of the Islanders center’s mind.
“It’s been fun being here. Glad they’ve all been with the Islanders,” Barzal said Wednesday, a day before he was set to reach that milestone in a game against the Devils in Newark. “Hopefully I can keep racking them up.”
Barzal has had a colossal impact on the Islanders. Through 299 games, Barzal has 259 points (79 goals, 180 assists), putting him in the mix with Islanders legends. Clark Gillies had 238 points in his first 300 games, John Tavares had 260 and Denis Potvin had 289. That trio are among the franchise’s top five scorers all time.
Yet when asked about this season, in which he has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 10 games, the first thing Barzal mentioned was improvement.
“I think there’s obviously just been some games where maybe I haven’t been as dynamic or had the puck as much as the last two [games],” Barzal said. “Or our line hasn’t been as good as the last two.”
It’s true that the top line of Anders Lee, Barzal and Josh Bailey has taken some time to get acclimated. Coach Barry Trotz originally had Kyle Palmieri in Bailey’s spot, but that was quickly scuttled amid a poor start.
Lee has scored three times in the last two games, however, kicmnk-starting the line’s production. Barzal said that when the Islanders are playing with a lead, he doesn’t feel a need to force things.
“We were at Arizona, Chicago, we had a lead the whole game. There’s not much I really need to go out there and break the game open, make an explosive play to get us on the board, we’re up,” he said. “So in those kinds of situations, Barry manages our bench and manages who’s on the ice at what time, [he] does a good job.”
This year, Trotz said, Barzal has grown in terms of understanding. Everything in hockey is about cause and effect — a simple fact that has clicked for Barzal.
“If there’s something that, your piece of the job, you don’t do, there’s an effect down,” Trotz said. “He’s putting those pieces together. I think when I first got here, he accepted it, but wasn’t really putting them together. … He did it because that was what we were supposed to do. Now I think he looks at it differently.”
It’s easy to look past Barzal’s historic pace because it’s so early in the 24-year-old’s career. Andy Greene, a 39-year-old veteran, is on track to play his 1,000th game when the Islanders play at Tampa Bay on Monday. Barzal joked he wished Greene were closer to his age so they could have more fun together off the ice.
By Trotz’s standard of 400 games, Barzal wouldn’t even be considered a veteran.
“I always look at it as when a guy hits 25 years old or 400 games then they’re pretty well an established veteran in the league,” Trotz said. “They had the growth as a player and the growth as a young man.”