Islanders coach Lane Lambert figures the longest he ever played with a linemate, dating back to youth hockey, was maybe two years. Ten years elapsing since a trio was first formed — as the fourth line of Casey Cizikas with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck is marking — is inconceivable to Julien Gauthier.
“I can’t imagine because I haven’t played for 10 years,” said Gauthier, in his first season with the Islanders after parts of four with the Rangers.
It was Gauthier skating with Cizikas and Ruslan Iskhakov while Martin was with Brian Pinho and Eetu Liukas during the Islanders' 2-1 win over Flyers on Wednesday night at UBS Arena in their preseason home opener. Gauthier and Simon Holmstrom scored for the Islanders.
Rest assured, the venerable Identity Line will be back together for the regular season opener against the visiting Sabres on Oct. 14. Lambert has all but declared that.
But with both Clutterbuck, who turns 36 in November, and Martin, 34, entering the final season of their deals, this could finally be it for the trio.
“I haven’t thought about it once,” said Martin, who spent two seasons with the Maple Leafs from 2016-18 after leaving via free agency. “Just focused on what we’ve got to do day to day. Maybe when I was younger, you worry about things in the future a little more. At this point, I’ve been through a lot of training camps, a lot of expiring contracts. All you can worry about is what you do daily.”
Clutterbuck skated with Kyle MacLean and Ross Johnston in the Islanders’ 4-2 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in their preseason opener.
The trio’s time together has diminished in recent seasons because of injuries, particularly to Clutterbuck. It is, unfortunately, a natural result of their physical, punishing play.
“Everybody hates to play against them,” said Gauthier, matched up frequently against the three while skating on the Rangers’ fourth line. “They’re really, really physical. They forecheck hard. They play smart in their defensive zone and it’s not like a fourth line that gets six minutes of ice time. They play a lot. The coach trusts them and it shows.”
Beyond the coaching staff’s trust, Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck have an implicit trust in each other. They have all made their homes on Long Island and the families are tight.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do and feel like we’re an important part of the team,” Martin said. “Every year, we spend a lot of time with each other. We want to be as impactful every night as we possibly can.”
Notes & quotes: Alexander Romanov, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, participated in the team’s scrimmage at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow for the second straight day. Lambert said the physical defenseman was getting “closer” to playing in the preseason…Defense prospect Isaiah George did not participate after absorbing a heavy hit from the Rangers’ Matt Rempe on Tuesday night, though he finished the game. Lambert cited maintenance and said George was day to day.