Isles’ Barzal complements guile with grit
First-Round Pick Scores Game-Winner in Preseason Victory over Devils
Mathew Barzal’s skills are undeniable.
But the 19-year-old’s grit, especially at the NHL level, is yet to be determined.
The Islanders’ first-round pick (16th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft displayed a little bit of both Monday evening at Downtown’s Barclays Center, helping New York to a 4-3 exhibition victory over the New Jersey Devils to kick off a stretch of three preseason games in as many nights for Brooklyn’s orange-and-blue squad.
Barzal, who registered 27 goals and 61 assists in only 58 games for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds a season ago, is trying to earn a spot on the Islanders’ Opening Night roster.
However, the 6-foot, right-handed shooting center out of British Columbia will have to prove to head coach Jack Capuano that he is just as capable of grinding out tough goals as he is putting on deft skating displays toward the net during this preseason.
On Monday, Barzal did just that, stuffing home the eventual game-winner from just in front of the cage at the 6:20 mark of the third period as the Isles held on for the victory behind goaltender Thomas Greiss, who made his debut in net this preseason after returning from the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
“Last game for me wasn’t great,” admitted Barzal, referring to his lackluster effort in Saturday’s 2-1 loss here to the Washington Capitals.
“I missed some assignments on faceoffs and stuff,” he added. “I watched a lot of video in the last day and a half, but I tightened up on that [Monday night] and felt much better.”
So did Capuano, who watched his club drop three straight exhibitions before improving to 2-3 on the preseason with Monday’s triumph.
“I thought the guys played hard,” Capuano said. “Once we started to find our identity of the way we wanted to play. Certain guys played real well.”
Though he stopped short of mentioning Barzal specifically, the not-yet-20-year-old hopeful was himself enthused by the collective performance by the Isles as they continue to prepare for the Oct. 13 regular-season opener against the rival Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“Last game there was a lot of penalties and not a lot of groove,” he noted after also adding an assist on the night’s opening tally by Colin Markinson.
“We earned our calls tonight and we were skating way better. Just a really good group effort tonight.”
Greiss, who went 3-1 with a 2.50 goals-against average for his native Germany during last month’s World Cup, stopped 25 shots in his first action since backstopping New York into the playoffs last season with a brilliant stretch run.
“It’s always nice to play, you just want to get in there, play a couple games, get a feel for the game and get your timing down,” said Greiss, who went 23-11-4 between the pipes last season, with most of those wins coming after starter Jaroslav Halak went down with an injury.
Former Devil Stephen Gionta was the game’s first star after putting New York ahead to stay with a goal at 3:55 of the third period. Defenseman Travis Hamonic and another former Devil, Steve Bernier, assisted on the score.
The Islanders were scheduled to host the Rangers on Tuesday night before traveling to New Jersey for another local showdown with the Devils on Wednesday.
Their preseason finale will be on Sunday at Washington.
This, That and the Other Thing: Newly signed free agent winger Andrew Ladd tallied for the first time as an Islander in Monday’s preseason win, knotting the contest at 2-2 in the second period off assists from prospect Josh Ho-Sang and veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who was making his preseason debut after sitting out the first several games with the infamous “upper-body” injury. “I felt pretty good,” said Boychuk. “I think it went well for the first game. Just getting back out there feels good. You want to play as many games as you can to get ready for the season.” Ladd was inked to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract this offseason by general manager Garth Snow to help offset the losses of long-time Islander forwards Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen via free agency. … After the Isles finish up here Tuesday night against the Rangers, Barclays Center workers will cover the ice with the Nets’ traditional hardwood as Brooklyn prepares to host Detroit on Thursday night for the NBA preseason opener. Head coach Kenny Atkinson, the sixth man in charge of the franchise since it relocated here in 2012, will make his non-official debut on the bench. It will be the first of six exhibition contests for the 2016-17 Nets, three of which will be played Downtown, including the Oct. 20 preseason finale against the East River rival Knicks.
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