Casey Cizikas had one goal coming into Islanders training camp: Set no goals.
"If I just leave it all out there every time I get a chance, that's all I was looking for," said Cizikas, who did just that on Wednesday in the Isles' lone preseason game at Nassau Coliseum. Cizikas and linemates Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck were the best Islanders throughout the game, with Cizikas scoring a shorthanded goal in a 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes.
The 23-year-old Cizikas seemed to cement a role as the fourth-line center, penalty killer and overall pesky player in the lockout-shortened 2012-13, his rookie season. He had 15 points in 45 games and then two goals and two assists in an effective playoffs.
But Cizikas' 2013-14, like many of his teammates, was a step back. Cizikas wasn't as good or timely on offense and was a consistent part of the 29th-ranked penalty kill. So even without the huge influx of NHL-experienced forwards for this camp, Cizikas would have needed a strong showing to earn a spot.
"You have to be ready to battle every shift, no matter who's here," he said. "There's guys every year who come in ready to take your job, so there's no letting up."
Cizikas' energy and determination have been noticed in this jam-packed setting, especially in contrast to some of the other Islanders forwards not quite looking as sharp.
"Those guys [Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Martin] were our best forwards the other night," coach Jack Capuano said. "They play Islander hockey; they play the way we want to play. Obviously, some other guys are getting away from that and we need to show the video and show on the ice what we need from everyone."
Another group of forwards will get its chance on Friday in Brooklyn, when the Islanders host the Devils at Barclays Center. This game will mark a halfway point of sorts in this camp; the Isles are likely to make their first round of cuts this weekend to reduce the NHL camp to a smaller number than the current 59.
"We told the guys today we're still in the evaluation process," Capuano said. "Some guys have had good practices, good games, and some have had tough practices, tough games. We still don't really know what it's going to look like."
Notes & quotes: Capuano praised 20-year-old Ville Pokka, the Finnish defenseman who played his first game with the Islanders on Wednesday. "For a kid in his first game, he was real poised," Capuano said. "I thought he handled himself real well." Pokka is likely to return to his Finnish League club if, as expected, he doesn't crack the opening night roster.