There have been a lot of moving parts on the Islanders during training camp and the preseason season, but while Jack Capuano hasn't settled on top lines, he appears to be pretty firm on one.
That's the Nikolay Kulemin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck trio, which the coach says will be together on opening night and in the forseeable future.
"When you think about three guys that do it the right way all the time, it's those three guys," head Capuano said. "The energy they bring - and losing [Matt] Martin on that line and adding Kule there for me - it's tough to separate those three guys. So right now, they are going to stay intact for sure."
Cizikas, who had a career-high 29 points, and Clutterbuck, who had 15 goals, including five game-winners, were two-thirds of the Islanders' highly-effective line last season, so it's nearly a no-brainer to keep them together. The key was filling the left wing role with Martin departing via free agency.
Kulemin fits the bill. At 6-1, 225 lbs. he's comparable to Martin's size and while he won't hit as much as Martin, Kulemin brings an element of speed to the line and can handle himself should things get physical.
"He brings tenacity, his motor doesn't stop," Clutterbuck said. "He gets in there and turns pucks over. Marty was really physical, but I think Kule is physical, but not in the explosion, glass-rattling style Marty was, but I have some aspects of that in my game and Casey does too."
Kulemin is responsible in his own end and with all three logging minutes on the penalty kill, this line should be one of the Islanders' most defensively responsible units. Last season Capuano used this line in end-of-game situations to protect leads and this year should be no different.
"To me, we can use those guys in any situation," Capuano said. "After a goal, before a goal, key situations down the stretch. They just get a lot of zone time. They forecheck hard, they are a tough line to play against, but they do all the right things."
The trio have practiced and played together since Kulemin returned from the World Cup of Hockey and the Russian has played with Cizikas and Clutterbuck in the past. There's some familiarity there and while Cizikas and Clutterbuck won't have the same level of chemistry with a new linemate right away, picking Kulemin is a calculated move.
"It's just three guys that play the game the same way," Clutterbuck said. "We are all moving in straight lines and all have some sort of responsibility of getting back and playing well in our zone first and then worrying about other things once you get that done."
"A lot of lines have different guys that do different things, but I think we're all pretty similar so no matter where we are on the ice," Clutterbuck added. "We can do each other's job on the ice, so that's what makes us consistent."
Putting Kulemin on that line should add to the feeling of continuity, even if it is a personnel change. He knows what the coaches expect of him, so that's what he's here to do.
"They want me to be physical the way the whole line was last year, so get on the hits, get on the forecheck and get some pucks back," Kulemin said. "That's what we're trying to do and stay in the offensive zone as much as we can."
If he can adhere to that, then this is one line Capuano won't have to worry about changing for a while.