NEW YORK — Sunday night was a glimpse into the future. If this future is near, Islanders fans are in for a treat.
Behind the performance of the rookie Mathew Barzal and eight points from defensemen, the Islanders took down the Avalanche 6-4 and improved their record to 8-5-1.
With a burst of speed on the right wing, the Islanders’ first-round pick of the 2015 NHL Draft took a Johnny Boychuk pass and finessed his way past Colorado Avalanche’ defenseman Nikita Zadorov. As he cut to the net, the rookie saw an open Jordan Eberle who finished a perfectly designed play in the back of the net.
Barzal was an unstoppable force on Sunday evening, setting an Islanders single-game record for assists by a rookie with five. The number five was wild as Barzal also extended his point streak to five consecutive games.
Scott Mayfield and Eberle had first period tallies, Nick Leddy and Boychuk added markers in the middle frame and the former Oiler – Eberle – grabbed one more in the third period. That, combined with 31 saves from Thomas Greiss proved to be enough to beat Colorado.
1. If you didn’t know this, Mat Barzal is already an impactful player. He’s a gifted and versatile hockey talent, can play two ways and is nearly averaging a point per game. The rookie is taking the games in stride and is making sure to not get too high or too low after one tilt.
“I’m just taking it day-by-day,” Barzal said on Sunday. “I think sometimes you can get ahead of yourself after you have a good game here and there. But I’m just trying to take it day by day. I’ve got to prove myself every day. I’m just trying to help this team win. That’s all I really care about.”
If there were any questions about this kid’s character, you could forget about it. He is humble and follows a business-like approach.
2. The defense looked spotty at times but how special was it to see eight points cashed in from defensemen? Mayfield, de Haan, Leddy and Boychuk all either found twine or helped in the process. It took a while but the Islanders will be in good shape if they can get their defense involved in the scoring.
“Yeah, it’s nice to chip in,” Mayfield said. “We started out this season a little slow, producing from the backend, so certainly nice to chip in and help our forwards out a little bit.”
Also worth noting, Mayfield earned the Gordie Howe Hat Trick on Sunday.
3. It’s time to move away from the Josh Bailey hate. He has become the player the Islanders wanted when they drafted him ninth overall in the 2008 NHL Draft. He may not score 35 or 40 goals a season, but the points keep coming for the 29-year-old winger. Not only is his veteran presence strong in the locker room, he is a formidable helper to John Tavares and Anders Lee on the top line.
Bailey now has points in nine straight, accumulating 14 assists in that span. He has 18 points on the season.
4. Jordan Eberle is now comfortable as a New York Islander. He scored goals number three and four on the season with his new linemates – Barzal – helping both times. The chemistry between Eberle, Barzal and Ladd is still growing.
“Yeah, it’s still coming,” Eberle said when asked about his comfort in the system. “I’m playing with this line for a few games and we’re starting to find some chemistry. It’s just a matter of finishing plays.”
5. Remember that stretch of power plays without a goal in the first month of the season? Those vibes seem to have left the locker room. There is much more confidence with the man-advantage compared to previous games earlier in the season.
The Islanders have nine power play goals in the last four games. New York’s penalty kill is also 8-for-8 in the last two contests. They’ve been winning the special teams battle.
6. If you’re looking for a game to attend at Barclays Center this year, here’s a word of advice. See a Western Conference opponent. The Islanders improved to 25-4-4 against teams from the west in Brooklyn. That record started at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season.