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Islanders Matt Martin Boosts Top Line, Having Underrated Season

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New York Islanders Matt Martin

Without Mathew Barzal, the New York Islanders went into PPG Paints Arena and came away with two points, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second time in three days via third-period comebacks.

It’s one of those games that one would call a full team effort, as the high-caliber players in Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Bo Horvat buried goals while enough of the role players followed suit with strong play.

While he played the fifth-fewest minutes for the Islanders, fourth-line forward Matt Martin was the unsung hero.

In 13:41 minutes, Martin recorded an assist, three shots on goal, three hits, a block and was involved in a scrum that sparked the Islanders late in the second period, which led to three unanswered third-period goals.

After skating with Andy Andreoff and Ross Johnston at Monday’s morning skate and through warmups, he found himself on the top line before the end of the first period as Simon Holmstrom struggled.

Alongside Anders Lee and Bo Horvat, that new-look top line came up large for the Islanders.

In 5:03 minutes on the top line, Martin seemed to fit in nicely, getting in on the forecheck but also showcasing his vision as he found Lee at the back post for the go-ahead goal with 9:45 to play in the third.

“He was unbelievable tonight,” Horvat said. A lot of things he does goes unnoticed. I mean, little things in the defensive zone getting pucks out, and he makes great plays like he did on Anders’ goal.”

With that assist, Matt Martin set a new career-high in that category, with 10 on the season. He now sits two points shy of his career-high, 19.

“He deserves a lot more credit with how head he is, with his vision and his play,” Lee said. “You just give him an opportunity, and look, he makes the play.

“He’s strong, he’s great on the forecheck, and he’s always in the right position defensively.”

Martin did not have to change his game when promoted by Lambert and understood his role to a tee.

“I just try to get in on the forecheck and try to create turnovers,” Martin said. “Obviously, Horvat is looking to make plays, and both those guys can put the puck in the net, so not a whole lot changes.

With Barzal out, Lambert gave Martin a critical chance in a pivotal game and liked what he saw.

“I thought he was very good. Marty’s a guy…a very smart player,” Lambert said. You can trust him in all different situations, and more often than not, he makes intelligent and good plays, so he played his way up there, and I thought he did a great job.”

For as shaky of a season as this one has been for the New York Islanders, Matt Martin’s been a bright spot the entire season.

At 33 years old, there were many questions on how Matt Martin could hold up in a full, normal 82-game season.

Martin was not ready for the start of the 2021-22 season as his recovery from offseason ankle surgery had taken longer than initially expected.

He missed the first two games of the season but was not the same forward he had been in years past, playing just 71 of the 82 games.

The fourth-line grinder had just three goals and four assists with 70 penalty minutes and just seemed like a shell of his former self. It appeared that Ross Johnston may be taking Martin’s spot in the lineup on a more permanent level.

But in 2022-23, Martin, back healthy, has not just looked like himself in on the forecheck and with the body but is on pace to have his best offensive season of his career.

And his success hasn’t come alongside Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, his long-time linemates, as Clutterbuck is out indefinitely and had been in and out of the lineup all season, while Lambert has used Cizikas higher up in the linemate to counteract losses.

This season, Martin has played on more than five different combinations but has not changed his game.

Lambert has trusted him to help the growth of Aatu Räty, who is now with the Vancouver Canucks, and Simon Holmstrom. He’s been alongside Hudson Fasching at times, who is making the most of his NHL minutes at age 27.

In 59 games, missing one for the birth of his second daughter, Martin has seven goals and 10 assists, a career-high 12.1 shooting percentage, to go with 30 blocks and 229 hits.

His 229 hits is second in the NHL, trailing Canucks Luke Schenn by 29.

Matt Martin has had himself a fantastic season, and if the Islanders are going to make the postseason, especially without Mathew Barzal, he and the rest of the depth players need to raise their game like they did on Monday night.

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