New York Islanders centre Mat Barzal is a big part of his team’s success. He’s their leader in points, one of the league’s more creative playmakers and he averages nearly 20 minutes a night — tops among all forwards on the club.
But you’ll notice in the Islanders’ last game before the break, Barzal played just 15:01, his lowest mark of the season. Despite that, he still recorded two assists in the 4-2 win over their rival New York Rangers.
The reason for his low ice time was that head coach Barry Trotz benched him in the third period. Barzal has had a recent spate of defensive lapses and Trotz, finally, decided to send a message to his young star by sitting him down. A few days later, after joining the best in the league at the All-Star Game in St. Louis, Barzal talked about it and, well, he agrees with Trotz’s move.
“As a young guy, I know an example needs to be set,” he said, per Newsday‘s Laura Albanese. “I was in the wrong.”
The incident that finally pushed Trotz to make the call seems to have been a bad turnover when the Islanders had a multi-goal lead that resulted in a quality chance for the Rangers. When Trotz was asked about why he benched Barzal after the game, he said simply, “he knows why.”
So much of the Islanders’ success in the past season and a half under Trotz has to do with how all the players have bought into a system from the top down. They were excellent at keeping shots against to the perimeter last season, helping goalies Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner to excellent seasons, and it translated into a playoff series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And while that has mostly carried over to this season, the Islanders have shown signs of slipping. In 11 January games, New York is 4-6-1 and, according to Natural Stat Trick, allowed more scoring chances at 5-on-5 than any team, and the second-most high-danger chances in the league. It’s the opposite of what’s made the Islanders tough to beat under Trotz.
“I was in the wrong for the play I made,” Barzal said. “Barry’s got my best interests and the team’s best interests. He wants to win as bad as anyone and so do I. It’s over with now. We got the win and that’s really all that matters.
“Barry is a smart guy,” Barzal continued. “He’s been around a long time. He’s seen every kind of player, so I just try to listen to him and just try to get better as a player every day with him. We’re fortunate to have him.”