COLUMBUS, Ohio — The NHL trade deadline is approaching, and as much as Thursday night’s game at Nationwide Arena was a chance for the Islanders to increase their lead in the Metropolitan Division — which they did — it also was a chance for a firsthand look at two Blue Jackets stalwarts who may be on the market.
The common thought is that the Islanders are looking for scoring help, quite possibly on the wing, and the Blue Jackets’ Artemi Panarin may be available as a rental.
Then again, the Islanders have prospered with balanced scoring all season.
This time it was fourth-line center Casey Cizikas — who notched his third career two-goal game on two breakaways — who stood out as the Islanders beat the third-place Blue Jackets, 3-0, and rebounded from a rare subpar performance Tuesday in Buffalo.
“There weren’t any passengers tonight,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Everybody was really good. We got back to playing what we call Islanders hockey.”
Cizikas extended his career high to 15 goals and goalie Thomas Greiss (31 saves) set a career high with his fourth shutout. Greiss, who stretched out his left pad to deny Cam Atkinson at the post at 12:39 of the third period to preserve the shutout, has stopped 185 of the 188 shots he’s faced in his last six games.
Greiss took the NHL lead with a .930 save percentage, nudging past teammate Robin Lehner (.929).
“He’s been unbelievable,” said Cizikas, who scored his two goals on three shots in 15:26. “Whenever we go into a game with the two netminders we have, we have a lot of confidence.”
The Islanders (34-17-6), who opened this two-game road trip with a 3-1 loss at Buffalo on Tuesday night in which they spent the first two periods struggling to break out of their defensive zone or gain the offensive zone, moved seven points ahead of the Blue Jackets.
“It was a good response,” Trotz said. “We’re not scared to go into any building. We’ve got trust in our game. We’ve got trust in our personnel.”
The Blue Jackets (32-21-3) had a four-game winning streak snapped as they ponder their options going into the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
Eight teams sent representatives to scout Thursday’s game, including the Rangers, but Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, also in attendance, never tips his hand.
The Blue Jackets may decide to trade the dynamic Panarin, an impending unrestricted free agent who has said he wants to test the market after completing a two-year, $12-million deal. Sergei Bobrovsky (24 saves) also is coming to the end of a four-year, $29.7-million deal and could be moved.
Cizikas’ backhander on a breakaway at 7:06 of the first period made it 1-0. He made it 2-0 at 5:50 of the second period after defenseman Devon Toews sprung him. Josh Bailey scored with 40.2 seconds left in the second period for a 3-0 lead.
Columbus took eight straight shots after Cizikas made it 1-0, forcing Greiss to stop Josh Anderson on a shorthanded breakaway at 8:34 and Zach Werenski on a two-on-one at 13:47.
“It’s nice, especially against that team with one of the best goalies and they’re really good defensively,” said Greiss, who assisted on Cizikas’ first goal. “We knew if we got behind, it would be tough.”