When the Islanders need a shot of energy, Jack Capuano knows who to send over the boards.
Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck make up the hardest-hitting line in hockey. These days, the Isles energy line is also hitting the back of the net.
"That line has been real good for us,” Capuano said. “They get it. They understand the concept of their role and responsibility and what they have to do. Normally when you know that, you play extremely well and you can see their work ethic now they're starting to chip in offensively."
Martin scored the game-tying goal in Monday’s 3-2 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. The goal was set up in the neutral zone by Cizikas, who has points in five of his last seven games. Clutterbuck scored the game before against the Chicago Blackhawks. Their contributions go a long way for the Islanders, who are 10-1 in games which Martin, Clutterbuck or Cizikas score.
“[Our line] has gotten back together and we’ve found that chemistry,” Martin said following Monday’s win. “We’re finding ways to be physical and provide energy, as well as provide some offense.”
Even when they aren’t scoring, the trio have an impact. Martin leads the league with 144 hits, while Clutterbuck is second with 125. Their relentless physicality makes them among the NHL’s most aggressive linemates.
Martin said the hits rush decisions by opposing defensemen and generate turnovers. Clutterbuck’s goal against the Blackhawks fit that hypothesis. After a center-ice faceoff, he pressured defenseman Duncan Keith and in turn, Keith made an uncharacteristically dangerous pass through the slot. The puck landed on Clutterbuck’s stick and moments later, it was in the back of the net.
Cizikas ranks fifth on the Islanders with 51 hits, but as the pivot, his role differs from that of his checking wingers.
“The three of us all try to play the same way,” Martin said. “Zeeker has more responsibility in the defensive zone than we do, being the centerman. He has to be a lot more aware and he’s there to cover us up if we do make a mistake.”
Cizikas has a 17-2 takeaway-to-giveaway ratio this season, but all three forwards are plus-players, which is why Capuano is comfortable putting the trio on the ice in key situations late in games.
Cizikas’ two giveaways are the fewest of any Islander that’s played more than eight games. All nine of his points (four goals, five assists) this year have come in the past 14 games.
"We've been fortunate enough to chip in five-on-five a little bit on the offensive side, but that just\comes from us playing our type of game,” Cizikas said. “[That’s] getting pucks in deep, making ithard on the opposing team's defense and forwards and just trying to be the hardest working guys on the ice."
The key now is to keep that energy up. The offense should continue to follow.