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Here’s What Martin Said About Top Line Shifts, Ross Johnston’s Jolt

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New York Islanders forward Matt Martin during morning skate on Wed, Feb. 22 (Photo courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)
New York Islanders forward Matt Martin during morning skate on Wed, Feb. 22 (Photo courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)

In the 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night, the New York Islanders got strong play from their stars and depth players. Fourth-line grinder Matt Martin elevated his game when head coach Lane Lambert promoted him to the top line, while Ross Johnston provided a jolt that helped get the team fired up, leading to a third-period comeback.

NYI Hockey Now caught up with Matt Martin to discuss his newfound role and Ross Johnston’s role with the Islanders.

Martin on Top Line

Before the end of the first period, Martin found himself alongside Bo Horvat and Anders Lee as Simon Holmstrom failed to make the most of the first opportunity in the Mathew Barzal spot.

Albeit just 5:03 minutes on the top line, 13:41 total minutes, Martin seemed to fit in nicely, getting in on the forecheck and playing his brand of hockey.

“I saw him be responsible like he is,” Lambert said. “He’s a very smart player. When you go on that line, you’re usually matched up against Crosby or whoever it might be tonight, whether it be Scheifele’s line or, you know.

“That responsibility level and defensive awareness is important.”

Horvat, who had played with Barzal since stepping foot on the island, enjoyed his time with the other Matt.

“I loved it. A lot of the things he does go unnoticed in the defensive zone. Even in the offensive zone, on the forecheck, and just getting pucks to me or Anders,” Horvat said. “Obviously, he showed off his skill. He’s got the skill. He showed it off2 last game.

“It was a pleasure to play with him.”

Martin found Lee down low for the go-ahead goal with under 10 minutes to play in the third, a heads-up play following a Tristan Jarry giveaway:

“I saw him (Lee) initially off the rush, and I knew he’s back there, and he’s a guy that’s made a living around the net. One of the best in the game at scoring (from there),” Martin said. “At the end of the day, I just want to get down from there for him and give him an opportunity to make the play which he did.”

Martin understood his role to a tee alongside Horvat and Lee and didn’t have to change anything.

“Easy guys to play off, read off of, and two guys that are looking to make plays, big bodies that hold on to the puck,” Martin said. “So not a whole lot changes from my perspective. Just want to get in on the forecheck, exit the zone cleanly, and make the plays they need to give them an opportunity to do what they did.”

Martin remains on the top line against the Winnipeg Jets.

Martin on Johnston’s Job

If you don’t know, Matt Martin and Ross Johnston have a strong bond. Both play a similar game, and Martin has served as a mentor for him over his seven years with the club.

Here’s our story on their friendship from this past summer:

Ross Johnston’s Special Relationship With Matt Martin

In the win on Monday, Johnston never dropped the gloves during a scrum, but he wore his emotions on the sleeve when he got tangled up with Jason Zucker.

Johnston played just 4:34 in the game, with 14 credited penalties during that sequence, but he played a part in getting the Islanders revved up for the comeback.

“Whatever your role, however many minutes (you play) every night, if you can find a way to impact the hockey game in a positive way for your team, then you’ve done your job, and you’ve done what you needed to do to help the team win,” Martin said. “And he was a big part of that.

“I think seeing all five guys in there brings everyone together, and then you come in at intermission in a game we needed, (a game) we wanted that much more because the emotions were running high.”

Johnston has played in just 13 games this season with two assists, averaging just 8:22 minutes per game.

“It’s not an easy role that he plays. He hasn’t played a ton of games this year, but he continues to work hard and continues to improve his game, and when he does come in, he seems to impact the game in a positive way. It’s not necessarily offensively, but he plays sound defensively. He’s physical, and he’s a presence on the ice. So like I said, it’s all about everybody in the room impacting the game.

“And he did that, and he does that, generally, when he’s in the lineup. We love having him out there.”

Johnston stays in the lineup for a third straight game as Josh Bailey is still not skating yet.

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