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Casey Cizikas has struggled amid high expectations

Kevin Poulin and Casey Cizikas of the Islanders

Kevin Poulin and Casey Cizikas of the Islanders defend the net in the second period against Eric Nystrom of the Nashville Predators at Nassau Coliseum. (Nov. 12, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

John Tavares was known earlier in his young career for being a player who had trouble letting go of rough nights. There were plenty of those for Tavares as a teenaged star on a losing Islanders team; now, at the ripe old age of 23 and wearing a captain’s “C” on his sweater, Tavares has learned how to channel his frustration and have the short memory needed to survive and succeed in the NHL.

Casey Cizikas is no Tavares, but at 22, Cizikas has made himself fairly indispensable to the Isles. In his rookie season of 2012-13, Cizikas instantly became the sort of hard-edged, high-motor player the Isles had sorely lacked; being a young, homegrown player (2009 fourth-round pick) didn’t hurt either, since the Isles had trolled the depths of other NHL rosters over the past few years looking to shore up the bottom two forward lines.

Cizikas had 15 points in 45 games last season, plus a pretty superb playoff series, with two goals and two assists.

This season has, so far, been a different story. Cizikas has struggled, much as the Islanders have, with higher expectations; he scored his first goal of the season on Thursday and his work on the Isles’ penalty killing unit hasn’t been good enough, with the Isles as a team entering Saturday’s game ranked last in the league on the PK.

Cizikas was particularly affected by last week’s ugly road trip. When the team landed home from Montreal on Sunday night after losing its fourth straight, he and roomie Matt Martin, his fellow fourth-liner, sat up late talking, joking and trying to shake things off.

“It’s not always what people want to hear, but sometimes just blowing off steam about it is the best thing you can do because the other choices aren’t so great,” Martin said. “Casey’s a guy who takes a lot of things we do as a line personally. Winning faceoffs, killing penalties, scoring some key goals -- we haven’t been doing that as much this season. As a team, we need to refocus on the things that we know make us successful.”

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