Mathew Barzal certainly looks like he has battled through three playoff series in 37 days.
With a gnarly bruise around his right eye and some serious swelling around the bone near his eyebrow, it’s safe to say the Islanders’ first-line center has taken a beating in recent games.
“I said to Barzy, as you go along you’re going to look more and more like a hockey player if you’re winning,” Barry Trotz said after the Islanders’ Game 7 win Saturday over the Flyers to advance to the conference finals for the first time in 27 years.
As the Islanders embark on their fourth playoff series of the season, against the Lightning, the Islanders coach has taken notice of just how much Barzal has matured as a player this postseason.
“I think what you’re seeing is a young player who matures,” Trotz said on a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon. “What happens with those top players like Mathew, they knew they have a bigger piece of the pie, if you will. And I think that lends the confidence, lends to some of those experiences, because we’ve had some playoff experiences for him. You grow that way.
“Usually on every team, some of your top players grow into that role. I don’t think he’s there yet, but I think the process has started that he eventually, with a few more years and more experience, he’ll be a real big piece of this hockey team.”
Barzal played a crucial part in the Islanders defeating the Flyers, recording two goals and four assists. Even though Barzal didn’t end up on the scoresheet in Game 7, Trotz said he thought it was the 23-year-old’s “best game as a pro.”
Trotz is sure this playoff experience has been beneficial for Barzal. He said he believes Barzal is beginning to learn how to be just as dangerous without the puck as he is with it. Trotz also noted prior to Game 1 against Tampa Bay that Barzal is beginning to shed his old habits from minor league and junior hockey.
“He’s been a player that’s made a difference all his life with the puck and now he’s learning that he can make a difference without the puck and when you bring those two things together you get a pretty elite player,” Trotz said.
Barzal entered the 8-2 loss in Game 1 against the Lightning with five goals and eight assists in 16 postseason games. He agreed the current playoff run has helped him grow as a player.
But Trotz evidently has played a big part in keeping Barzal on the right path through his development. Considering Trotz’s reputation of getting players to run through walls for him, Barzal’s beat-up face is starting to make a lot more sense.
“Barry has been there to kind of just keep me calm and make sure I’m always looking at the big picture,” Barzal said. “Keeping my mindset focused on the goal, which is winning the hockey game and winning the series. I think that’s a step I’ve taken this playoffs, just really focusing on worrying about the end result and not letting the little stuff get to me. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of that and I have to continue.”
Cal Clutterbuck couldn’t finish Game 1 after blocking a shot from Tampa Bay defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Trotz said the fourth-line winger was a “possibility” for Game 2 on Wednesday.
“Honestly everything will be reassessed in the morning,” Trotz said. “But I think there’s a possibility he’ll be in.”
The Islanders didn’t conduct a full practice Tuesday, just a team stretch and a quick workout as well as video meetings.