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Rosner: Islanders Should Focus on Duos as Players Return



New York Islanders Alexander Romanov (left), Casey Cizikas (center) & Hudson Fasching (right)

The New York Islanders have a good problem on their hands. Cal Clutterbuck just returned from injury after missing 20 games, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau is on the doorstep of returning after missing 12.

In the Islanders’ 5-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday night, head coach Lane Lambert struggled to balance his lines with Clutterbuck back in.

While he tried to find the right combinations and a spark, the fuse burned out quicker, and the Capitals took advantage of their discombobulation.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be a huge challenge,” Lambert said following Saturday’s loss in response to being asked about line combinations. “They’ve played in certain situations and guys have played together, and it’s just a matter of getting some combinations.

We can play armchair head coach all day, not knowing more than Lambert regarding his lines.

One could argue that inserting Clutterbuck into a lineup that had won three straight games didn’t make sense, but it’s not like the Islanders had played inspiring hockey in most of those games. Also, Otto Koivula is indeed injured, and it’s clear Ross Johnston is at the bottom of the totem pole.

But I digress.

Lambert is aware he has duos on this team that seem to click. So rather than keeping threesome’s together that may not be as effective as they once were, there’s a case to be made for Lambert to make some necessary changes heading into their week in California.

Although Clutterbuck took line rushes with Josh Bailey and Pierre Engvall on Saturday morning, and during warmups, Lambert quickly placed Clutterbuck with Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas for his first few shifts before ultimately moving Clutterbuck to Bo Horvat’s wing.

Again, discombobulation with no one raising their game in that pivotal game.

Cizikas has been a man unleashed lately, leading rushes, crashing the net hard, getting in on the forecheck, and has clicked quite well alongside Hudson Fasching.

That was a duo that played a critical role in their 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres and their comeback 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.

One line that hasn’t been doing much lately has been the Brock Nelson line, with Kyle Palmieri on his right and Zach Parise on his left.

Nelson has just one goal over his last five games, which came in overtime. Palmieri has just one goal over his last nine games, while Parise has one over his last 10.

That line has gone stale, and it’s time for Lambert to rework it.

If I may…

Lambert has shown a willingness to play Josh Bailey at center, citing after the game that “he does whatever we ask him to do.”

With Cizikas being the catalyst that he has been and with how well Fasching has been playing, why not place them on Nelson’s wing?

Now, you are probably wondering where that leaves Palmieri.

Palmieri is a legitimate NHL sniper and is one of the few Islanders that can score from a distance, and the Islanders need to get him going.

With Anders Lee and Horvat a clear duo, it’s time for Palmieri to get a chance on that line.

Anders Lee-Bo Horvat-Kyle Palmieri
Casey Cizikas-Brock Nelson-Hudson Fasching

Before Pageau went down, Lambert loved how he and Parise played with one another, so now it’s time to link them together again.

There are options for who would play on the right wing of that line with Josh Bailey, Pierre Engvall, and Simon Holmstrom.

What I would do, being the “not” head coach that I am, would be to place Simon Holmstrom on that line.

But it’s a short leash for the 21-year-old who has not played the responsible defense we had seen when he first came up.

This line should allow Holmstrom to get more looks toward a goal and show off that shot while having defensive support.

If Holmstrom can find that defensive game, that line can serve as a shutdown line, which Pageau usually plays on.

Anders Lee-Bo Horvat-Kyle Palmieri
Casey Cizikas-Brock Nelson-Hudson Fasching
Zach Parise-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Simon Holmstrom

Now to the fourth line.

Martin and Clutterbuck have played together for years, racking up hits like it’s their job and usually toward the top of the NHL leaderboard.

Clutterbuck has the most hits in NHL history, and while injuries may keep him from being that physical weapon he once was, he had four hits Saturday and didn’t leave the game–a sure positive.

As for who plays center on that line, there are two options: Bailey and Engvall.

Engvall is coming off his best showing as an Islander, as he showed off his raw speed Saturday, scoring a goal off the rush that he banked off a defenseman.

Although he hasn’t played much center as of late, that was his primary position when he first came up with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While Engvall is not a physical player, despite being six-foot-five, he told NYI Hockey Now upon his arrival that he loves to carry the puck up from the defensive zone, and he will have that opportunity on that line.

He’s also a strong penalty killer, fitting in nicely with his wingers.

Now, you could have Josh Bailey play in Simon Holmstrom’s spot or in Pierre Engvall’s spot and move Engvall to Pageau’s wing.

There are certainly options, but for this stretch run, where every point is critical, it’s essential to have the ability to run four lines, your four best lines.

Anders Lee-Bo Horvat-Kyle Palmieri
Casey Cizikas-Brock Nelson-Hudson Fasching
Zach Parise-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Simon Holmstrom
Matt Martin-Pierre Engvall-Cal Clutterbuck

The New York Islanders face the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, and Pageau did make the trip out west after skating with his teammates for two practices and a morning skate.

The Kings have been lethal with a 4-0-1 record over their last five games, and the Islanders will need to bring their “A” game to snag two points as they continue their push for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.


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