Coaches are forever talking about the need to establish a team identity and Barry Trotz’s goal for the Islanders is in line with many of his counterparts. He wants a squad that is hard to play against, defends well and can outwork the opposition.
Yet the Islanders’ identity last season as they missed the playoffs for a second straight year was of a team that played poor defense, giving up an NHL-worst 293 goals, and didn’t particularly win a lot of physical battles.
Which is why, at least to start training camp, Trotz is relying on a bit of the team’s past in the reunited line of Casey Cizikas centering re-acquired left wing Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck to help move it forward.
The trio was in the lineup for the second time in three preseason games on Tuesday night at Barclays Center against the Flyers. They started Sunday afternoon’s 3-0 win over the Flyers at Nassau Coliseum because Trotz wanted them to set an immediate tone and have the rest of the team look to them as an example.
“Any coach would like his team to play a certain way and when you play a certain way you have an identity,” Trotz said. “And within those components of your team you have different identities and different lines with different identities. With the Cizikas line, it’s been effective, it’s been hard to play against physically. They’ve been responsible defensively and no one wants to play against them. A lot of people said that was the best fourth line in the NHL for a while. They had an identity and they thrived on that.”
Martin is back with the Islanders after two seasons with the Maple Leafs and Trotz wasted no time putting him back together with Cizikas and Clutterbuck, a trio that played three seasons together after Clutterbuck was acquired from the Wild in 2013. That span includes the Islanders’ seven-game, first-round loss to Trotz’s Capitals in 2015 and a first-round win over the Panthers in 2016, the team’s lone playoff series victory since 1993.
“I think it’s a pretty good first step towards just having some validity to what it is we do and the energy we bring,” Clutterbuck said of Trotz’s apparent trust. “It’s important that every team have certain guys that drive the engine from a get-up-and-go kind of perspective. If we can even be a small part of a small portion of that for our team, that goes a long way of being able to create some of that identity.”
Both Clutterbuck and Martin said, despite some rust, the old chemistry is still there.
“Yeah, it felt pretty natural,” Martin said. “We can play better, there’s some kinks and some rust but, overall, it’s pretty good.”
“There was a little bit of doubt going into the first game on Sunday that things might be a little bit different,” Clutterbuck added. “We found out that the whole energy and accountability and ability to turn pucks over and play in the offensive zone was there immediately.”