It’s far too simplistic to state that as the Islanders’ trio of Casey Cizikas between Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin goes, so goes the team.
Yet it’s also not too far from the truth. There’s a reason coach Barry Trotz rejects the fourth-line designation in favor of calling them the "Identity Line.’’
"You think at times to break them up," Trotz said on Sunday after the Islanders practiced at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "But they use the same brain. They’re all on the same page, so it’s hard to break them up."
The Islanders (4-4-2) will face the Rangers on Monday night at Madison Square Garden looking for their second winning streak of the season. They’re hoping to build on Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum that snapped an 0-3-2 skid.
So is Cizikas’ line after a rocky start that mirrored the rest of the team. Clutterbuck scored the third-period equalizer against the Penguins off assists from Cizikas and Martin after that line was on the ice for Jake Guentzel’s go-ahead goal five minutes earlier.
"When the team isn’t playing well, sometimes it’s tough to be productive to get things going," said Clutterbuck, who scored his first goal since Dec. 5, 2019, a span of 20 regular-season games. "It’s tough to get up to speed to get on the forecheck. But it is what it is. It’s the ebbs and flows of a season. You’ve got to do your best to just keep pushing forward."
Monday will mark the third game between the New York rivals after they split shutouts at the Garden to open the season. The teams will meet eight times in this shortened season.
The Islanders won, 4-0, on Jan. 14 as Clutterbuck had an assist in a three-goal first period.
But the Rangers beat them, 5-0, two nights later as highly touted Russian rookie Ilya Sorokin was forced into his NHL debut after intended starting goalie Semyon Varlamov was injured in warm-ups when Clutterbuck hit him under the mask with a shot.
"It just shows whoever doesn’t show up is in trouble," Cizikas said. "We played really well in the first game and they came out with a little bit of fire in them and took it to us. We didn’t really have a response. We left Ilya out to dry and that’s in the back of our minds. We want redemption for that game and we want to come out and continue this good feeling we have right now."
A win also would push Trotz past Ken Hitchcock into third place on the NHL’s coaching victories list.
They are tied with 849 wins. Scotty Bowman is the all-time leader with 1,244 wins.
"A guy like Hitch, who I admire and, in some ways, he mentored me a little bit when I was younger," Trotz said. "Just to be in the same breath with guys like Hitch and people like that, it’s sort of humbling. But it really doesn’t mean anything. It just means I’ve been around a long time."
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.