On Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the New York Islanders saved the best for last — in more ways than one.
Thanks to goals from Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin in the final 10 minutes of the third period, the Islanders topped the New York Rangers, 2-0, for their second straight victory.
Monday’s shutout over the Rangers felt like a prototypical “Islanders win” in the Barry Trotz era. A low-event game with tight defensive play that came down to a handful of opportunistic goals in the final period. It was the fourth line that cashed in when it mattered and put the Islanders in the win column again.
“It was definitely frustrating as a line because we were playing well at certain points,” Cizikas said. “And then just kind of getting away from our game and that’s when we were getting in trouble. I think over the past few games we’ve been doing really well at playing to our strengths and playing the way our team needs us to play.”
But despite the low final score, the Islanders forwards played a strong end-to-end game, generating plenty of chances before finally breaking the ice in the third period. Each line carried a Corsi For percentage above 50 percent at 5-on-5, the first time the Islanders have done that in the 2020-21 campaign, according to Natural Stat Trick.
While you can single out the effort from a few different skaters, it was the Islanders’ energy line that got on the scoresheet and produced plenty of chances.
As a unit, Cizikas, Martin and Cal Clutterbuck generated seven chances on net and saw the Rangers produce just three in 6:19 together on the ice. The 70 percent of chances was similar to the fourth line’s effort in the opening game of the season, when the group had over 60 percent CF percentage against the Rangers.
“We’re keeping our game simple and playing to our strengths,” Cizikas said of the fourth line. “Creating chances for us and it’s turning into success for our line. We’re playing well, we’re gelling right now. It’s a good feeling and something we can get better at each game.”
The trio on Monday had three high danger chances for, two of which hit the back of the twine.
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 9, 2021
The first came with just under nine minutes to play in the final period. With a strong forecheck, the fourth line kept the puck along the boards. The pressure caused the Rangers to turn the puck over in their own zone, where Adam Pelech kept it in at the blue line. After a shot and a scramble in front of the crease, it was Cizikas who put the Islanders up with 8:45 to go.
And just over two minutes later, Clutterbuck took a feed from Mathew Barzal and drove wide along the right wing. With Martin speeding down the slot he fed it to the middle and Martin tapped in an easy finish.
“We’ve been having a little bit of tough luck lately with pucks going in on us and obviously that doesn’t sit well with us — not well at all, actually,” Clutterbuck said after the game. “It was nice being able to go the other way in a big game, a big moment we needed something there. Just lucky to go out there and provide a little bit of offense.”
MATTY MARTS! Keeping the party going!
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 9, 2021
For a team that’s relied so heavily on Mathew Barzal and the first line to generate offense, the scoring depth Monday must be a welcome sight for Trotz and company. It marked Cizikas’s second goal of the season and Martin’s first since the postseason bubble. And overall, it was a marked improvement over the last game against the Penguins when the line allowed seven chances against and produced only four themselves.
However, in that last game, they did produce three high-danger chances for, one of which was a Clutterbuck tying goal.
And Monday, the fourth line backed up Semyon Varlamov’s dominant effort in net with much-needed timely production on the other end.
“We’re playing right now and we’re doing our jobs,” Cizikas added. “The coaches have been on us every practice, every day expecting better from us. We’re playing hard, we’re giving it everything we have.”
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