Islanders Mailbag: Not better without Barzal, 11 games to go

The New York Islanders got their work done in California. They took two out of three games, with both of their wins coming against bottom feeders in the NHL. With a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night, the Islanders leapfrogged the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top wild card spot in the East.

The Penguins are two points behind the Islanders with two games in hand.

Since the All-Star break, the Islanders are 11-5-3.

Since Matthew Barzal was injured, the Islanders are 8-3-1, with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games.

With 11 games to go, the Islanders are in a three-team wild-card race as the Florida Panthers are a major threat, trailing the Islanders by a point with two games to play.

Let’s get to your questions and comments in the final mailbag:

What is the Islanders record when Bailey is scratched? (@Michael_Klinck)

Saturday night marked the sixth time this season that Josh Bailey served up a healthy scratch. He missed a total of 10 games, but four due to injury. Although a scratch, the Islanders are 3-2-0. With him out of the lineup, they are 5-5-0.

I didn’t think it was right to scratch him for what would have been his 1,000th game against the New York Rangers, but I’m not a head coach. I also thought scratching him against the Nashville Predators in mid-November against a physical team might have been the wrong choice, but hindsight is 20/20.

Fasching is 2nd on the team with 6 points in games since March 7th (behind only Palmieri) and leads the team with a +7 over that span. Is now the best time to sign him? (@PatMunger)

I’m a big fan of Hudson Fasching as a player and as a person. He was the biggest surprise for the New York Islanders in terms of free agent signings and may be one of the biggest surprises in the entire league. I recently wrote a story about how Fasching is 100 percent going to sign an extension.

Hudson Fasching is “100 percent” interested in a contract extension with the Islanders

We all know how Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello works, so it’s very possible Fasching already has a deal, or at least talks have begun. I don’t think his play right now means he should be signed now.

What’s up with Barzal – Is he out until September? (@ErnestoForero5)

When we learn something about Matthew Barzal, you will know. There’s always mystery around injuries, and as I write this today, Barzal hasn’t skated in 28 days (that we know of), 12 games. It is listed as week-to-week and there is no update on its status.

The last time we saw him in practice he was looking over and walking around, he wasn’t limping so take that as you can.

Matthew Barzal attends Islanders practice, watches from the stands

Better without Barzal? (@JmNyc780)

It has become a common question or topic of conversation as the Islanders have played better in his absence, but are not better in any way, shape or form without Matthew Barzal.

The reason the Islanders are looking better is because they realized that without Barzal they have to go back to basics and are now playing that defensive style they played under Trotz.

According to Kevin Kurtz of The Athletic, the Islanders’ power play has run at a 10.7 percent clip since Barzal went down. They went one for five in Saturday’s win. In his absence, Lambert has players on the top line, with no one taking the chance and executing on it.

Barzal’s return before the end of the season is not only a desire for New York, but if they want to do any damage in the playoffs, if they get there, he will have to play a critical role.

When Barzal comes back, you should slide Holmstrom to the 4th line for Cal, right? (@Islesfanaz)

Well, that honestly depends on whether the Islanders view Simon Holmstrom as a fourth-line player. As much as Cal Clutterbuck has looked a little out of place since his return despite a strong game against the Sharks, he knows how to play postseason hockey and there is comfort here.

Holmstrom has seven goals in 42 games.

Was the separation of Pelech and Pulock a big reason for more stability on defense? (@wings_prince)

The separation of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock was not only a big reason for more stability on defense, but the biggest reason. Ideally, the Islanders would have liked Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov to have clicked, with two strong pairings on defense and a solid one in Sebastian Aho and Scott Mayfield, but that wasn’t the reality.

Since Romanov was paired with Pulock, he has been incredible for the Islanders and showed why Lamoriello traded his 13th pick this summer for him. Mayfield elevated his game along with Pelech, and with that, the Islanders returned to the kind of defensive play that led them to back-to-back semifinals.

When will Horvath get his score back? (@prodl)

There’s no doubt that Bo Horvat is still finding his offensive direction with the New York Islanders. Despite five shots on goal on Saturday night and five goal chances, the 27-year-old has just one goal in his last nine games. We knew there was going to be an offensive slump after he left the Vancouver Canucks, but they need him to start scoring.

However, without Barzal or any solid wing, it does make life a little more difficult for him. And while many will worry about his offense, the main reason he’s here is that he single-handedly saved the Islanders’ season by taking over for Jean-Gabriel Pago, specifically at the faceoff spot, while he was out injured. Horvath also played on the power play and the penalty shootout.

Islanders Bo Horvat: From added incentive to playoff savior

If Aho missed the time, assuming Worherspoon intervened. Too bad because Aho is really improving. (@coniem5)

Sebastian Ajo has had a strange season, with a slow start and steady midfield, and now he’s been swinging between strong and lackluster performances, but he’s used his speed effectively with and without the puck.

He took a nasty hit in the first period against the Sharks and didn’t return, so we’ll probably get an update on Monday after practice if he’s not there. If he can’t play on Tuesday, it could be Parker Wotherspoon, who has been patiently waiting to play since January 21, but we could see Samuel Bolduc recalled.

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