The Islanders’ Jack Capuano has a quicker trigger finger than most hockey coaches when it comes to changing line combinations, but captain John Tavares said there is no mystery to the motivation behind it.
“I think that’s usually an indication you’re not playing very well,” he said.
So they are not, with a 1-3-2 slump and a 0-2-1 road swing during which they scored a total of three goals.
But there is one trio that Capuano is hesitant to touch, and that the Islanders improbably find themselves relying on for a jump-start as they return home Monday to face the Flyers after Capuano gave them an unscheduled day off Sunday.
That would be the fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, who the head coach, teammates and fans all have praised as the heart of the team.
Capuano went so far as to call Cizikas “one of our best players” and “what Islander hockey is all about.”
It probably was not a coincidence that of the Islanders’ three losses last week, their worst performance came in Nashville in the one game Cizikas did not play — the only game he has missed this season.
Cizikas already has a career-high 25 points.
“It’s not really surprising,” Clutterbuck said. “You could see in practice his skill level is pretty high. I don’t think he gets enough credit for that, or he never has. Maybe he’s starting to now.”
Said Cizikas, “It’s definitely been an exciting year. There’s definitely been ups and downs, but like I’ve said before I wouldn’t be where I am without my linemates. Marty and Clutter have been outstanding, and they are a big reason we’re having the success that we are.”
And why is that? “I just think we keep it simple,” he said. “We don’t really veer off too much from what makes us successful. You’re not really seeing us up there trying to toe drag, trying to take guys one-on-one and make risky plays.
“We’re getting pucks in deep, we’re working down low. We’re, I think, taking advantage of the opportunities that we have. I don’t think we’re forcing it.”
Clutterbuck has scored 13 goals, several of them very timely, and Martin leads the league in hits with 334.
So why would Capuano mess with a good thing, particularly when other parts of the team are struggling?
“It definitely helps having the consistency with the guys you’re playing with,” Clutterbuck said. “The anticipation is there.”
Said Cizikas, “He’s shown confidence in us and faith in us and he keeps us together every single game. We’ve built chemistry off of that . . . It almost makes it easier to play out there because we know if we keep playing the way we are and playing our style, we’ll gain more and more trust.”
Tavares called the fourth line the team’s most consistent all season. “That’s why they’ve been together so long,” he said. “He doesn’t want to break them up. It’s a testament to them.
“They bring a lot of energy. They’re physical. They’re hard on the other team, but they get the puck in the net. Casey’s had a great year. Cal has gone back to the way he can score . . . And Marty does what Marty does. He’s such a physical presence. Teams really feel him on the forecheck in front of the net.”