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Cal Clutterbuck makes preseason debut for Islanders, has physical ups and downs

Cal Clutterbuck of the Islanders skates against the

Cal Clutterbuck of the Islanders skates against the Red Wings during an NHL preseason game at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Monday. Credit: David L. Pokress

Cal Clutterbuck may yet get a chance to play in the Islanders’ new arena after ending last season with some doubt as to whether he’d be able to continue his gritty career.

Then again, games like Monday night’s 3-2 preseason overtime win over the Red Wings at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum show Clutterbuck cannot take anything for granted. He’s had back problems and missed the bulk of the second period after tangling with Michael Rasmussen before returning for the third period.

“There was a point in time where I could have needed fusion [surgery],” the 31-year-old Clutterbuck said. “I may still need it some day. They get a couple of extra years out of me here.”

Clutterbuck made his nearly-truncated preseason debut in his normal spot on Casey Cizikas’ right wing with Matt Martin hours after the arena groundbreaking ceremony at Belmont Park, which is scheduled to open in October, 2021.

He exited at 1:52 of the second period, slowly rising from the ice after his run-in with Rasmussen, and skating hunched over to the Islanders’ bench. He remained there until 8:12, when he retreated to the team’s room. Instead of reaggravating his back, this time he was off the ice because of concussion protocol. He was cleared, and was back on the bench for the final minute of the second period.

His line started the third period and Clutterbuck drew a roughing call on defenseman Dylan McIlrath 49 seconds in — the former Rangers’ first-round pick didn’t like Clutterbuck’s check and shook him like a doll — and Clutterbuck was also used on the penalty kill in the period and in the three-on-three overtime.

Clutterbuck, whose five-year, $17.5 million deal runs through 2022, did undergo offseason back surgery to repair nerve damage after playing with increasing pain last season starting in February.

“There was doubt,” Clutterbuck said. “I was kind of worn out mentally when [the season] was over. It felt like the end of the world. There was a legitimate threat of that. Once we got the imaging done and we spoke to the specialists, it was a positive result.”

He has been on the ice with the Islanders since training camp opened but the organization took the cautious route in getting him into a game.

Coach Barry Trotz has spoken often of the crucial role the Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck line provides. Clutterbuck is also one of the Islanders’ top penalty killers, another reason Trotz wants to make sure he is ready for the regular-season opener against the Capitals on Oct. 4 at the Coliseum.

“He brings a little bit of that dust to the table, the sandpaper to the lineup,” Trotz said. “It’s been a long summer for him in terms of the rehab.”

Notes & Quotes: Anders Lee scored the winner with 28.7 seconds left in overtime…Right wing Jordan Eberle scored twice in the first period, including a power-play goal to make it 2-0 at 8:50. He has three goals in three preseason games…Mathew Barzal had two assists and has four in three preseason games…Goalie Semyon Varlamov played his first full game of the preseason, making 21 saves…Forwards Arnaud Durandeau, Scott Eansor, Manhasset’s Ryan Hitchcock, Jeff Kubiak, Kyle MacLean, John Stevens and defenseman Seth Helgeson did not participate with either of Monday’s morning practice groups. It’s likely they will be re-assigned to Bridgeport.

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