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Barzal’s Line Domination of Vegas Provides Hope

A disappointing loss masked an unprecedented night for the Killer B’s.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at New York Islanders
Catch me if you can. (You can’t.)
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It was no-doubt a disappointing game for the New York Islanders losing to the Golden Knights in regulation after out-performing Vegas at 5v5. It was almost enough to take a step back and again swear not to take this Islanders team as a serious contender for a top-3 spot in the mediocre Metro.

Still, every time the Killer Bs line of Anthony Beauvillier, Mathew Barzal, and Josh Bailey took the ice, I could not look away.

While Barzal was on the ice at 5v5 the Islanders dominated Wednesday night, out-attempting Vegas 8-0 for high-danger shots (HDCFs). Aside from Barzal’s line, the Isles were a pedestrian 4-3 for HDCFs at 5v5 against the Golden Knights.

HDCFs are typically shots taken in the crease and lower slot area, as the below visual provides an approximation, in blue.

How special is an 8-0 performance at 5v5 by a line?

Consider that a typical NHL team averages nine high-danger attempts at 5v5 this regular season. Not only was it near a game’s worth of high-danger shots with one line on the ice, but allowing zero is similarly remarkable. Joe Thornton’s line in San Jose (with three of the best defensemen in the league supporting it) has not shut out an opponent over an entire game this season, at 5v5, for HDCFs.

In fact, with Auston Matthews (TOR), Elias Pettersson (VAN), and Connor McDavid (EDM) on the ice this season, there has not been a shutout greater than three HDCFs at 5v5 for their respective lines. If a line is focused on attacking, it often leaves its own high-danger area exposed, as its team pushes numbers forward.

Certainly much credit is due to the Isles’ defensemen against Vegas denying attempts from the lower slot. But the Barzal line didn’t seem to spend much extended time in their defensive zone, partially because they transitioned well and maintained some possession at Marc-Andre Fleury’s end of the ice.

Much of the game Vegas was scrambling to the bench after Barzal’s line attacked, rather than launching a counter. (One example is just before Pelech’s goal, after Barzal wrapped around Fleury’s net nearly uncontested.)

Here are the top HDCF “shutouts” for 17 of the best centers this season. While Nathan MacKinnon and Barzal played over 17 minutes of 5v5 in their top games, Evgeni Malkin and Jack Eichel played under 12 minutes.

This is very encouraging for Barzal, in particular, as his line has been good, but not as extraordinary as last season.

After appearing more dominant against the Red Wings and Penguins on some shifts the two previous games, it is possible that Barzal is turning the corner, gathering momentum as he goes.

For the team, it was certainly a disappointing collapse against Vegas. But the way Barzal and his line are trending, now is not the time to look away.