Islanders' Barzal and Ho-Sang learning 'big boy hockey'

Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter

"I believe they are learning. We have a nice five and a half hour plane trip ahead of us and I got about 15 minutes with each of them that will probably end up being 30. They're good kids, good players and have earned their spots. This is big boy hockey and that's a great defensive core over there (St.Louis). They'll figure those things out. They got better as the game went, but had some guys who played pretty well and demanded more ice time. I feel like I can rely on them, put them out in almost any situation. Barzie (Mathew Barzal) has been good, Josh (Ho-Sang) is fine."

Those comments made by Islanders head coach Doug Weight after yesterday's 3-2 come-from-behind shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn tell you something about how he might manage his rookies as the 2017-18 season moves along.

When Joshua Ho-Sang was announced a scratch in the regular season opener, a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, many cringed, but he reacted with maturity and professionalism. Since he has returned to the lineup for the previous two games and in disagreeing with how Weight ended his aforementioned comment, the turnovers and sloppy play have been evident, however, on both Saturday and again yesterday afternoon.

The two most glaring would be the fact he lazily retreated into his own zone on a power play and didn't come nearly low enough to assist Jaroslav Halak with a second period play up the boards on Saturday, leading to a shorthanded goal by Evander Kane. The next was yesterday, when, after controlling the puck out of the penalty box following a team bench minor, he proceeding to skate around the net and right in front of Thomas Greiss. He actually engaged the lone forechecker and had two outlets on either side to safely advance the play.

Then there's the good, as we again turn back to Saturday, when his forechecking and awareness led to a second period assist on Josh Bailey's first goal of the campaign, and yesterday, when his speed and elusiveness drew two power plays for his team.

Lest we forget this is a 21-year-old kid with only 23 games of NHL experience, Ho-Sang is going to have his ups and downs as he learns to play a much faster, more physical style of play. And it seems as if he still has the confidence of the coach -- for now. Weight likes to give his young players a chance at success, something former head coach Jack Capuano seemingly had little patience for. If his errors keep putting the team in a position to surrender goals, however, Weight could be left with little choice.

We know, for certain, there is nothing wrong with the confidence of the player. And that, in development speak, can make a ton of difference.

Barzal, on the other hand, just seems to need to catch up to the speed of the NHL game, which is considerably faster than he's ever seen during his four years with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. He has only played five NHL games and did not play in the AHL, so the adjustment is much different for him than Ho-Sang, as was discussed last night on the Secondary Assist Podcast

A perfect example of this would be the missed opportunity off a fantastic Jordan Eberle pass that Barzal flubbed in the second period.

The talent is evident and he seems to have little problem possessing and carrying the puck into the offensive zone, something New York has desperately needed the past two seasons to supplement the only other players who do it effectively enough, Nick Leddy and captain John Tavares. As he finds his feet, that skill should translate in a big way on the power play, which is struggling right now to adapt to, perhaps, some new personnel and a slight tweak in the system.

"Confidence has been big for me. In preseason, you get a couple of points and that pushes you along, then you get to the regular season and it's a different game. It will be nice to get on the board, but I know that will come and we're focused right now on getting wins as a team", Barzal said yesterday in the home locker room.

He almost had his first goal, and first point, in the league Saturday, but old 'friend' Kyle Okposo caught him from behind with an empty net starting the 20-year old dead center between the eyes.

"Who really wants an empty netter for their first goal? That's the way I'm looking at it now, even though I admit I was a little frustrated when thinking about it at first. I saw (Casey) Cizikas and he had a great game. I was kind of looking to dump it off to him and got caught up. But I took a late penalty there and probably didn't deserve a goal, anyway. Hopefully, my first one comes at a better time."

Development, over the past decade, has not exactly been synonymous with the Islanders organization, especially discounting 'slam dunks' like Tavares. There, unfortunately, have been far more Ryan Strome, Nino Niederreiter tales. But New York gets another chance with Ho-Sang and Barzal, not to mention Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield. 

Here's hoping, with a new coaching staff, they figure out the formula and get it right.

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