A deeper look at Islanders’ decision to bench Barzal

Joey Alfieri
NBC Sports

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How does a player go from having his third five-point night of the season on Friday to being benched late in a close game on Sunday? Well, just ask the New York Islanders.

Mathew Barzal, who has 16 goals and 59 points in 57 games this season, was sat down late in New York’s 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames because he “was playing a little bit soft, not soft, but slow. A big part of my game is just playing down low and battles and winning that kind of stuff. So I wasn’t doing that [Sunday],” Barzal told Newsday.

Over 82 games, every player is bound to have a rough night, so it’s hard to blame the 20-year-old, especially after he registered five assists in an overtime win over Detroit just two days before the benching.

But who is head coach Doug Weight really punishing here? Sure, Barzal is affected by the decision, but how about the rest of the team? The Isles are far from locked into a playoff spot (they’re currently one point behind the Devils and Hurricanes for Wild Card spots) and not having Barzal on the ice late in a one-goal game is a questionable decision. The Islanders will need every point they can down the stretch, so missing out on two points on home ice is huge.

“It’s who’s going to score for us,” Weight said. “So (Barzal) just threw the puck away three times on the last power play, and we had meetings between periods showing him what’s going on and what we have to exploit.

“So that’s not a teaching tool. That’s not a young guy, we’re going to really teach him a lesson; he’s going to be a pro for 20 years.”

Sure, Weight had capable offensive threats like John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey at his disposal when his team was down one goal with 1:05 remaining, so it’s not like they had to throw someone with no offensive pedigree out there. Still, sending a message to one your top two players in that situation is a little bizarre.

The rookie still played a respectable 17:44 at even-strength and he got almost five minutes of power play time, but when the chips were down, he wasn’t on the ice. He had just one shift in the last 6:40 of the game (score was tied 2-2 during most of that stretch) and he didn’t get back on the ice when his team went down 3-2.

By comparison, Brock Nelson, who had a hat trick on Friday night, got three shifts in the last 5:32 of the game. This isn’t meant as a shot to Nelson because he’s been very productive of late, but he finished the night with a minus-1 rating and no shots on goal.

Weight’s team might have multiple offensive weapons, but not many players in the league can change a game in a split-second like Barzal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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