While the New York Islanders sit at the top of the Metropolitan division, Mathew Barzal is starting to bear the full weight of being at the center of the opposition’s attention.
The NHL’s reigning Calder Trophy winner may have 12 points in 14 games this season, and no, Barzal’s struggles have nothing to do with having just a single goal thus far. Barzal was never advertised as a goal-scorer, and his body of work from last season — which includes tying Bryan Trottier’s 63-assist mark for rookies — enforced that.
The sophomore slump is commonplace in the league and nobody was denying it would take effect. Barzal’s point production is already at an elite level, but the Islanders franchise player is working under Barry Trotz and company to pick up his play away from the puck.
But as Barzal continues to lay under the microscope of some pundits, his gradual adjustment to a new coach and system are going remarkably better than expected.
With that said, here’s exactly where Barzal will likely put the majority of his focus during practice.
Barzal’s biggest and most obvious underlying issue takes place in the center of each circle in either zone — his faceoff percentage is quite low. Last season his 42.6 faceoff win percentage took an overall backseat for the rookie given the magnitude of the season he was having. This season it’s even lower at just over 40 percent.
Struggling with faceoffs isn’t anything new to the Islanders, but it’s an issue that needed remedying yesterday. This is going to be a tough one for Trotz, as the Islanders find themselves third from the bottom of the league in save percentage above both the Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens with 45.9 percent.
This brings us to Barzal’s shooting percentage, which so far is at just 5.6 percent vs. last season’s 9.7 percent. There’s no doubt it’s adding more frustration given the onus from Trotz and company is to take fewer shots while increasing the quality of those taken.
While last season’s sample is from a full 82 games versus just the 14 played so far this season, the percentage of shots making it through to the goalie is still noticeably lower — from an even 65 percent down to 39.1 percent this season.
Additionally, Barzal’s shot count is at just 18 so far compared to the 31 from last season. For a player who sees the ice as well as he does, it seems the staff is encouraging him to hold onto the puck for longer and to be more selective in his shooting — at least, let’s hope it’s that.
It leaves one to wonder if part of Barzal’s struggles ties into his linemates, who for a brief part of the season were both Anders Lee and Josh Bailey, and now back to the Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle trio.
The Islanders have managed to climb to 8-4-1 during this season’s start thanks to a large distribution of offense up and down the lineup. The thought that they’re already at the top of the Metropolitan division with their franchise center dealing with a series of adjustment.
In taking a peek at Barzal’s underlying numbers, there’s evidence that there’s still work to be done. Regardless of all of that, however, Barzal’s 12 points through 14 games are still evidence enough that he is for real, and once he figures out the finer points of his game that’s when the real dominance will begin for Barzal, and the New York Islanders.