When Barry Trotz took over as head coach of the Islanders in 2018, Mathew Barzal was 21 years old and about to embark on just his second full NHL season.
Back then, if the Isles star center was about to compete in his ninth playoff game of the season and still hadn’t scored a single goal — like he is currently — he may have gotten in his own head and been visibly frustrated with himself. But that was before he had three seasons under Trotz, who has worked to shape Barzal’s mentality and helped him mature over the years.
“He’s in a really good spot,” Trotz said Wednesday of the now 24-year-old Barzal. “Honestly, that’s what I think is the biggest growth in Barzy. … He’s not getting consumed by you guys asking him, ‘You haven’t scored.’ All he’s concerned about is, ‘Did I play well, did I do my job and did we win?’ Last game, he played well and we won a hockey game.
“That’s all that he’s concerned about, which is really a big growth on Mathew because early in his career, he felt that if he didn’t do something then the team couldn’t win. He’s realized he has to just be a contributing piece.”
Trotz has been pleased with Barzal’s contributions away from the puck through the first-round win over the Penguins and the first two games of the second-round series with the Bruins. He’s pointed out that Barzal, who has four assists in eight playoff games, has still been dangerous, effective in the hard areas and fighting for his inches.
The next step, according to Trotz, will be for Barzal to ask himself how he can find a way to get on the score sheet.
“Would I like him to produce a little bit more? Absolutely,’’ Trotz said. “But he will. He will, and he’s a proud player, he’s a good player, and I have a lot of trust in him that he’s going to be able to do that.”
Trotz said he expects to roll with the same lineup for Game 3 Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum, as rookie winger Oliver Wahlstrom continues to nurse a lower-body injury he sustained at the end of the Penguins series.
Both Wahlstrom and Michael Dal Colle, who has been scratched through the playoffs but “tweaked something” recently, have been skating and are still considered day-to-day.
Nassau Coliseum will host 12,000 fans for Game 3, which is as close to full capacity as the arena has gotten since before the pandemic.
“I think [the fans] know, bring it, we’re gonna need them,” Trotz said. “We’re gonna need every one of them just to get through this because we’re playing a very good hockey team. We want to do it for the area, for our fan base, for ourselves as an organization.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said he assumes second-line winger Craig Smith, who missed the first two games of the series with a lower-body injury, will be back in Boston’s lineup for Game 3.