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New York Islanders

Without Martin, Islanders Fourth Line Lacked Identity

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New York Islanders Center Casey Cizikas (53) and New York Islanders Right Wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) congratulate New York Islanders Left Wing Matt Martin (17) for scoring a goal during the third period of the National Hockey League game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders on March 4, 2021, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale.

When it comes to the identity of New York Islanders there’s one line that has embodied that throughout the years. Aptly nicknamed the identity line, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin have made up a fourth line that has personified what the Islanders’ mentality has been, but through two games, and without Martin, that unit has struggled to match what New York needs it to be.

The Islanders have started off the year on the wrong foot, dropping their first two games to Carolina and Florida, and have been outscored a combined 11-4 in the process. That’s not all on the fourth line, but when the Islanders have struggled it has historically been when their identity line has been needed most.

The New York Islanders have had Clutterbuck and Cizikas on the ice for the first two games, but they have had Ross Johnston and Leo Komarov fill in for Martin while he recovers from offseason ankle surgery. Without the third member of their trio, Clutterbuck and Cizikas’ impact hasn’t felt the same early in the year.

Islanders Defense Needs Spark After Back-to-Back Losses

“I honestly don’t think they’ve been really good at all compared to what their ceiling is,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Saturday’s loss in Florida. “That is a little bit concerning, but I can say that about a couple of lines. You have to be firm offensively and firm defensively. There’s not enough of that consistency there yet.”

The line has certainly felt the impact of not having Martin out there to start the season. They have been physical through two games, with Clutterbuck and Cizikas putting up a combined 18 hits through the first two games, but it hasn’t created the game-changing momentum shifts that they have in the past.

At its best, the identity line has changed the course of games. They bring a certain energy, grit, resilience and havoc that allows the Islanders to generate scoring chances and build off the momentum. That presence has been missing so far.

They have had moments where the line has shown flashes of what it can do. On Saturday night Clutterbuck rang a shot off the post for an early New York scoring chance.

“We’re just trying to play simple,” Cizikas said. “I thought we did a good job tonight getting the puck in deep. Getting on it quick and creating some chaos. Clutter had a great chance there in the first. He hit the post, so it’s just a matter of playing our game and doing what we have to to help our team

“That’s what our mindset is going into every single game and we just have to do that for a full 60. That’s just the way we have to play.”

Aside from the physical nature of the game, Cizikas has struggled in the faceoff circle. The centerman, who inked a 6-year, $15 million deal this summer, has not come up with the big faceoff wins that the Islanders have come to expect from him.

In the first two games, Cizikas has won 32.5 percent (6-of-20) of his draws and he has not won a defensive-zone faceoff in 12 attempts. It’s still early, but it all starts to add up after the rough start New York has had.

One saving grace could be the return of Martin before the Islanders’ Tuesday matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks. Martin has been skating and inching closer to a return to his spot on the identity line.

After two games, the Islanders need more from their identity line to jumpstart was has been a sluggish start to the season.

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