By: Spencer Lussier
The Player: Mathew Barzal
Mat Barzal has become a name in the NHL to watch out for every time he steps foot on the ice. This past week, the New York Islanders rookie was a prominent force in their two wins over Montreal and the New York Rangers. In Saturday’s beat down of the Rangers, Barzal finished the night with five points. In the process Barzal jumped Vancouver’s Brock Boeser for the rookie points lead. Not only did he help his case for the Calder Trophy this year, but his five-point performance was also something not many players have done in the NHL. Earlier in the year, Barzal put another five spot on the Colorado Avalanche earning five primary assists, which is impressive in itself. Tuesday was Barzal’s second five-point performance which made the 20-year-old one of only five rookies in the post expansion era to have multiple five point games in a season. Currently, Barzal has 48 points through 47 games, eight points clear of Boeser for the lead, but if Barzal continues this current pace he can continue to put his name in the conversation for one of the NHL’s greatest rookie seasons. Since the lockout of 04-05, the NHL has seen its fair share of high scoring rookies, with 18 rookies reaching the 60-point mark. Barring anything crazy, Barzal should reach that milestone relatively quickly, but if he continues his point-per-game clip he could become the fourth rookie to reach or surpass 82 points in their first season, the others being Sidney Crosby (102), Alex Ovechkin (106) and Evgeni Malkin (85). There were a lot of what if’s for Barzal to have one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory, but one thing is for sure, his nine points in four games this past week makes him our player of the week.
The Trend: Leafs Third Period Issues
The Toronto Maple Leafs have fallen apart since their hot start to the season. Looking like a force to be reckoned with in the Atlantic, the Leafs overall play has slowed down substantially. Since the mid-point of December, the Leafs have been one of the worst teams in the league. What is more alarming are the games that were within reach but eventually slipped away, which leads me to the trend of the week: The Leafs third period issues….again. The Buds are losers of seven of their last nine games, and are on a four-game slide. In those four losses, the Leafs allowed goals in the third period to either let the opposition tie the game up and force overtime, most recently being last night in Philly. Or the alternative which is flat out losing the lead in regulation. Even the Leafs two shootout wins early in 2018, the extra frame could have been avoided with the Leafs blowing the lead late in the third. This issue is nothing new for the Leafs. In fact you could compare this issue Montreal’s lack of scoring, as both franchise have dealt with these issues each season, yet never correct the problem. Toronto issue has been the late game collapses, and if they legitimately believe they are Stanley Cup Contenders, the Leafs need to quickly address this trend.
The Surprise: Boston Bruins
In that same time frame that’s seen the Leafs struggling, Boston has been excelling, making the Bruins the surprise of the week. Even though Boston has been dominant since mid-December, this past week continued to surprise me. Boston is the hottest team in the NHL with only one regulation loss in the last month. This has helped them climb the rankings and overtake the Leafs for second in the division. Injuries hampered Boston early in the season, but with their full lineup back, the chemistry is starting to form on all four lines, especially their top line which is considered by many to be the top unit in the NHL. The unit consists of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. It’s not just those players though, they’re getting production from rookies like Danton Heinien and Charlie McAvoy, who have asserted themselves as two of the league’s top young threats. Everything is going right for Boston at the moment, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon.
The Read: Florida's Great Hope To Matter Again
There have been a lot of articles that caught my eye this past week, but the one that stood out to me the most was one done by Greg Cote of the Miami Herald. What made his article the read of the week was how he looked at where Florida is as a hockey city, and how Aleksander (Sasha) Barkov is the link to make hockey popular again. Barkov was a gamble at the number 2 overall selection in 2013 ahead of names like Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones. Being selected as high as number two instantly makes you the focal point in what the team hopes to be a successful core. Now, in his fifth season, Barkov has been selected to his first all-star game and has met, if not surpassed expectations for the organization. Thus, Barkov is a centre piece for Florida if they want to become more relevant across the NHL again.
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