Jordan Eberle – Isles’ Unsung Hero

This was not an accident.

With the Islanders leading the sizzling Vegas Golden Knights by a slim goal in the third period last Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena, coach Doug Weight badly needed a cushion goal to protect the lead.

It was the kind of clutch situation that first-year Islander Jordan Eberle relishes as do his linemates Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier.

“Eberle is the glue of that line,” MSG Networks Islanders analyst Butch Goring told me. “He works so well with those kids.”

So, on what proved to be the game-winner they went to work, starting with Barzal confronting the puck-carrying Vegas defenseman Colin Miller along the right-side boards.

Barzal’s move forced a loose puck that conveniently ricocheted to Beauvillier, who was coming up on Mathew’s left. Whereupon the kid they call “Beau,” launched a tic-tac-toe play.

He skimmed a backhand pass from the faceoff dot to Barzal, now on his right. With radar-like precision, the NHL’s top rookie then flicked the biscuit between two Vegas defenders to Eberle.

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The ex-Oiler camped in the left slot, accepted the pass but, significantly, didn’t take a panic shot. Instead, he glided to the right, taming the puck before wristing a shot off the crossbar to beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The time was 8:21 of the final frame. The save-the-win cushion fit perfectly as Vegas scored a late counter, but Eberle’s proved to be the winner as the Islanders continue their crusade for a playoff berth.

Jordan’s extra-second corralling of the puck before releasing his seeing-eye shot demonstrates not only what a goal-scorer’s goal looks like but also that the Regina, Saskatchewan native continues to be the club’s unsung hero.

“What Jordan did with the puck from the second it hit his stick,” explained Goring, “showed both his poise and confidence. He brings terrific offense to the team and chemistry to the line.”

Big-time attention? Well, that’s another story, as proven once the victory was sealed and two points delivered to the NHL. Author of the game-winner, Eberle was virtually a forgotten man.

Jaroslav Halak speaks with Shannon Hogan after recording 38 saves in the Isles' 2-1 over the Golden Knights in Las Vegas.

After the game, Jaro Halak‘s 38 superior saves grabbed the headlines with the sub-heads going to Barzal whose pivotal assist added to his rookie scoring lead. Even burly rookie Ross Johnston upstaged Eberle after scoring his first-ever NHL goal to put the visitors on the board.

Not long ago, I confronted Jordan about his playing effectiveness as opposed to the accompanying lack of attention for his innumerable good works. Affable, approachable and articulate, Eberle shrugged off the unsung-hero stuff like a pitcher nixing his catcher’s call for a knuckleball.

“I’m quite happy with where I am,” Jordan allowed. “I like it here and sure enjoy playing with the two young guys. I don’t feel that I need a lot of attention.”

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Like it or not, some kudos eventually find their way to Eberle’s stall right next to John Tavares‘ locker.

Obtained from Edmonton last Summer in an exchange for disappointing forward Ryan Strome, Jordan originally was designated as a winger on the Captain’s line.

After that experiment turned out to be something less than wonderful, the general staff decided to insert Eberle on the right wing alongside Barzal at center and Andrew Ladd on the other side.

As far as Andy and Matty were concerned, Jordy was like the cream in their coffee.

“He’s a super easy guy to play with,” said Barzal. “He’s so smart — so skilled — and we have the same kind of jump into holes. He’s always open.”

It stayed that way after Ladd was sidelined with injury and Beauvillier took over as if he had been drinking Superstar Juice. Eberle’s winner against Vegas simply was an example of how the trio has turned games around like perfectly meshed gears.

Most observers expected the Eberle scoring machine would remain intact once Jordan moved East but critics, such as Goring, see an extra added attraction to The Eberle Effect.

Goring: “What’s surprised me is his tenacity and willingness to generate a second effort. He’s dedicated to playing both sides of the puck; a 200-foot game.”

While it’s evident that Eberle has extracted the best from Barzal’s game, less noticed has been the positive effect Jordy has had on Beauvillier’s sudden ascent to stardom.

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Until Beau was inserted alongside the freshman and the vet, Anthony’s game was alternating somewhere between lost and found. But once the two Millennials were joined by the onetime Oiler, they began making beautiful music together. Often their speed and flair put them in a class with the Cap’n John’s first line; sometimes better.

Since the line’s formation eight games ago, each member of the trifecta has earned at least 10 points; Ebs himself has netted 3 goals and 7 assists while Barzal leads the trio with 14 points over the stretch.

Thanks, in part, to Eberle, Beauvillier tallied a head-turning eight goals in seven games, adding two assists in that time. Meanwhile, over 50 games, Barzal boasted 16 goals and 35 assists for a rookie-leading 51 points.

Barzal: “Ebs has become one of my best friends. It helps me being a young guy playing with a veteran like that. He makes me feel comfortable.”

Not that Jordan has suffered from total media isolation. A full-length New York Times feature last December by Allan Kreda momentarily put the new Islander in the spotlight.

“Eberle’s shift to the second line,” wrote Kreda, “alleviated pressure on Tavares. Jordan plays with simmering intensity.”

When in a relaxed mood, Jordan plays the guitar — his wife, Lauren, who teaches voice and piano talked him into it — and does it almost daily.

“It’s something that takes me away from hockey a little bit,” he admitted. “Music helps since it means using a different side of the brain.”

Doug Weight talks about the Islanders effort and the solid performance from Jaro Halak in the impressive win over the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights.

While Ebs’ coach appreciates that music has charms, Weight is more interested in his ace’s work on ice.

“He’s been really solid and confident,” Doug revealed. “I call him a ‘quiet leader’ who has stepped up and accepted every role we’ve given him in a good way.”

In a sense, Ebs as an unsung hero is reaping benefits. Hockey editor and former scout David Kolb offered a compelling insight on that theme.

“With less scrutiny,” Kolb noted, “Eberle is not gripping his stick too tight and is shooting accurately, using the skill he has. Playing with Barzal, he has more time to shoot because the kid creates time and space with his speed and shiftiness.”

And, as we saw in Vegas, this is no accident!

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