Islanders’ Mathew Barzal may not be ready for start of playoffs
Zach Parise thinks Mathew Barzal is probably a little tired of hearing his teammates ask how he’s doing.
And without much doubt, Islanders coach Lane Lambert is probably a little tired of answering daily questions about Barzal’s status.
But with the star forward yet to begin skating as he rehabs a suspected knee injury, it’s becoming harder and harder to see how he’ll return before the playoffs.
The only thing resembling a timeline that the Islanders have given regarding the injury is that they plan to have Barzal back “before the end of the season” — phrasing that leaves out whether the intention is the end of the regular season or before the Islanders’ playoff run ends.
“Possibly, yeah,” Lambert said Friday, asked whether the regular season was still a realistic target. “I can’t tell you 100 percent, but when he starts skating, we’ll all know.”
Because Barzal still hasn’t taken the ice, it presumably would take a miracle for him to play during a weekend back-to-back in Tampa and Carolina.
That leaves four regular season games for a potential return before the Isles presumably begin the postseason, with the first opportunity being next Thursday at home against the Lightning.
The biggest clue Lambert offered following Friday’s practice was saying that the original timeline for a return hasn’t changed.
The Islanders declined a request for Barzal to speak to reporters, even though he is not on injured reserve.
Otherwise, there wasn’t much new to say, but Barzal’s teammates are eager to see him get back.
“It can do a lot,” Parise said. “I thought him and Bo [Horvat] had some good chemistry when they were playing together. And it’s just the trickle-down effect. He plays on the top power play, dynamic forward, it’ll help out our scoring, it’ll help out our team a lot.”
On the ice, the Islanders have responded in the best way possible to Barzal’s injury after he left a 6-2 loss to Boston on Feb. 18 following a knee-to-knee hit from Craig Smith.
The Isles have gone 11-4-2 since then, completely reversing the course of their season and putting themselves to return to the playoffs.
The Islanders, with 87 points, hold a three-point lead over Pittsburgh for the first wild-card spot, with Florida behind both teams with 83 points.
The Penguins have a game in hand, but that alone isn’t enough to make up their deficit to the Isles.
The top line and the power play, though, have clearly missed Barzal since his injury.
Horvat’s scoring has dropped off and the team is just 5-for-40 on the man advantage.
More than that, the Isles will need as much firepower as possible to pull off a first-round upset.
“Missing him, you have to try and fill that void as best you can as a group,” Brock Nelson told The Post. “You get a guy like that back, he can impact games, he can impact every shift. With the puck, he’s so dynamic. I think everything’s looking good for him right now. Timeline-wise, I’m not so sure of specifics, but hopefully we get him back soon.”
Barzal has been around the facility and interacting with teammates on a regular basis.
“It’s a tough spot, I was there for a bit last year,” Nelson said. “As a competitor and athlete, you want to get out there and play with your buddies. You definitely feel like you’re missing out and want to try and stay in the loop. I’m pretty sure most guys check in and talk to him pretty often.”
All his teammates can do is hope and play.
“I think the biggest thing, it’s the easy point of view, too, is the longer we keep playing, the higher chance he’s coming back,” Nelson said. “So whenever he does come back, it’s going to be huge for us.”