Cal Clutterbuck arrived at the Coliseum on Tuesday to find a new addition to his jersey: An 'A' stitched in the top left corner.
"I think they gave it to me because I never stop talking," he joked after the Islanders' 4-1 win over the Rangers, the first game with his new designation as alternate captain, in place of the injured Kyle Okposo. "Johnny [Tavares] was giving me a hard time about it. I guess I don't shut up."
That may be true at times on the ice for Clutterbuck, who in his second season with the Islanders has become perhaps their top agitator -- a ranking that was reinforced in an unpleasant way with the NHL fining Clutterbuck $2,000 for embellishing a hooking penalty he drew against the Flyers 10 days ago.
But the 27-year-old wing is not just here to tick off people. With linemates Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas, Clutterbuck is part of perhaps the most effective energy line in the NHL. Martin scored the key goal in Tuesday's win, set up by his two linemates early in the second period.
Scoring is not that line's main focus, but neither is it a trio simply skating around and looking for contact. They have positive Corsi and Fenwick ratings, demonstrating the line is far from a liability as it had been at times (with different personnel) last season.
So it may seem odd for the team's second-leading scorer, Okposo, to be replaced on the leadership hierarchy by Clutterbuck, whose 10 points this season are second-fewest among the regular forwards.
"The style he plays, you have to respect that," Tavares said of Clutterbuck. The two were teenage teammates for Oshawa of the OHL a decade ago. "He's been in the league for a while now and he has a good understanding of what it takes to win and what our team needs."
Clutterbuck had a decent first season with the Islanders, scoring 12 goals in 73 games. But he was acquired from the Wild at the 2013 draft for Nino Niederreiter, who came into his own with Minnesota and scored perhaps the biggest goal in franchise history, a double-overtime, Game 7 winner to beat the Avalanche in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.
That swap could have colored Clutterbuck's entire Islanders tenure. But Clutterbuck, who never quite found a home on any line during last season's disappointing performance, began this season with Martin and Cizikas and it's the only line that hasn't changed due to anything other than minor injury all season and is now getting praise from all quarters.
That includes from behind the Islanders bench.
"They're succeeding within the framework of how we have to play," Jack Capuano said. "That's the biggest thing for me with those guys."
The reward for the most senior member of the line was the 'A.' Now Clutterbuck can yap with some official backing when on the ice.
"We just try to be reliable out there," Martin said. "Clutter is a guy that has earned a letter."
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