Mathew Barzal, the Islanders highly-skilled 2015 first-round pick, was asked to do more work in the so-called dirty areas by the Islanders coaching staff. That's where he was on Monday and it paid off, as he went to the front of the net and jammed home the game-winning goal in the Islanders 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils in preseason action at Barclays Center.
"Last game for me wasn't great," Barzal, who finished the night with a goal and an assist, said. "I missed some assignments on faceoffs and stuff. I watched a lot of video in the last day and a half, but I tightened up on that tonight and felt much better."
While more Islanders veterans laced up their skates on Monday compared to Saturday's 2-1 loss to Washington, Barzal said the blue and orange gave a better effort and it showed on the scoreboard.
"Last game there was a lot of penalties and not a lot of groove," Barzal said. "We earned our calls tonight and we were skating way better. Just a really good group effort tonight."
Head coach Jack Capuano agreed.
"I thought the guys played hard," Capuano said. "Once we started to find our identity of the way we wanted to play. Certain guys played real well."
Colin Markison opened the scoring midway through the first period, deflecting a Johnny Boychuk shot past Cory Schneider at 9:54. The Islanders had the better of the play in the first period, outshooting the Devils 11-9.
The Islanders couldn't carry the momentum into the start of the second, with the Devils pulling ahead 2-1 by the 11-minute mark. Reid Boucher tied the score beating Greiss upstairs short side on a turnaround wrister at 8:12, while Miles Wood beat the Islanders goalie far side at 10:49.
The two-goal flash woke up the Islanders, who responded with one of their own. Andrew Ladd scored his first of the preseason in impressive fashion, beating Schneider cleanly upstairs from the high slot at 14:29.
This time, the Islanders did carry their momentum into the third period. Stephen Gionta - the game's first star - scored against his former team, crashing the net and knocking the go-ahead goal in at 3:55. Barzal scored the eventual winner shortly after, putting the Islanders up 4-2 at 6:30.
Devante Smith-Pelly chipped a rebound past Thomas Greiss at 11:43 to make it 4-3, but that's as close as the Devils came. Travis Hamonic foiled the Devils best chance at tying the score in the final minutes, sweeping a loose puck out of harm's way and under Greiss.
Greiss made 25 saves for the win in his preseason debut, his first action since returning from the World Cup of Hockey.
"It's always nice to play, you just want to get in there, play a couple games, get a feel for the game and get your timing down," Greiss said.
Boychuk also made his preseason debut, picking up a pair of assists. The Isles defenseman had previously been sidelined with an upper-body injury.
"I felt pretty good," Boychuk said. "I think it went well for the first game. Just getting back out there feels good. You want to play as many games as you can to get ready for the season."
The Islanders are currently in a stretch of three games in three nights. They'll host the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at Barclays Center at 7 p.m., before heading to Prudential Center for a rematch with the Devils on Wednesday night.