The trio of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck always goes fourth in the pregame line rushes and their game is marked more by grit and physicality than offensive prowess. So, in hockey terms, they are the Islanders’ fourth line and, in Martin’s first tenure with the team, were dubbed the best in the NHL.
To Islanders coach Barry Trotz, they are simply “a good line.”
The Islanders, who conclude three straight games at Barclays Center on Tuesday night against the Blues, did not practice on Monday. On Sunday, Cizikas and Clutterbuck each had a goal and an assist and Martin had two primary assists as the Islanders topped the NHL-leading Lightning, 5-1.
“I don’t know why people call them a fourth line,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “They work hard and do the right things and get rewarded. They’re a big part of our team.”
“They just bring a different element,” Trotz added. “Not a lot of teams have that element. Everyone has gone to the speed and the skill and they have elements of that. But they also have a little bit of a physical element to them.”
Trotz has relied on the line’s hard-working nature to set the tone for the team’s identity and has had them on the ice to start seven straight games heading into Tuesday night.
That would have been eight straight except Trotz had Leo Komarov temporarily in Clutterbuck’s spot to start a 4-0 win at Toronto on Dec. 29 so the Scotiabank Arena crowd could acknowledge the former Maple Leaf.
Overall, Trotz has had Cizikas, Martin and Clutterbuck in his starting lineup 17 times.
“We’re playing predictable,” said Cizikas, who extended his career high with his 11th goal on Sunday. “We’re playing smart hockey, simple hockey, and we’re getting rewarded for it.”
Cizikas has no problems with his trio being identified as the fourth line.
“I think so,” he said. “I wouldn’t really say we’re offensive players, but we play the right way as a group and the way we need to to be successful as a line: Getting pucks in deep and forechecking and making it hard on the other team.”
Cizikas also has eight assists. Clutterbuck has three goals and seven assists and Martin, reacquired after two seasons with the Maple Leafs, has five goals and five assists.
“They make the right decisions with line changes, puck management, and they give us a physical element,” Trotz said. “I wish sometimes our other lines would learn from that. Our other lines need to get a little more of that to make them effective. They’re a great illustration that strength is in the group, not with the individual.”