Matt Martin used his big body to create a net-front presence off the right post. Then, with the hard hands he uses well to defend his teammates, he deftly sent a soft no-look, backhand feed to set up Anthony Beauvillier’s first-period power-play goal.
Martin, a fourth-liner getting a chance on the man advantage with Anders Lee out for the season, arguably made the game’s prettiest play as the Islanders earned a 3-2, four-round shootout victory over the Flyers on Saturday night. And there’s little debate that the identity-setting fourth line of Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, potentially in its last go-round after being formed in 2013, is having one of its finer seasons after a slow start.
Martin, who has six goals and five assists in 38 games after notching five goals with an assist in 22 postseason games in the Islanders’ run to the Eastern Conference finals last year, said getting a power-play opportunity has been fun.
"It means a lot," he said after Saturday’s win. "In a perfect world, we’d still have Leesy and he’s one of the best net-front guys in the league. Without him, it’s a big hole to fill, and I’ve gotten an opportunity as of late to play on it. A lot of communication from guys in practices working on it."
Cizikas, the baby of the trio after hitting 30 on Feb. 27, has seven goals and seven assists. Clutterbuck, the line’s elder statesman at 33, whose acquisition from the Wild first solidified the line, has three goals and six assists.
Lou Lamoriello’s first trade as Islanders president and general manager was to reacquire Martin from the Maple Leafs on July 3, 2018. As the Maple Leafs’ GM, Lamoriello had lured Martin away from the Islanders with a four-year, $10 million deal on July 1, 2016.
Before this season, Lamoriello signed Martin, who will turn 32 on May 8, to a four-year, $6 million deal.
Now Lamoriello faces a tough decision on Cizikas, an impending unrestricted free agent in the last season of a five-year, $16.75 million contract.
The Islanders, like almost every other NHL team, will be tight against the flat $81.5 million salary-cap ceiling, and top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech and emerging goalie Ilya Sorokin will be restricted free agents due big raises.
Lamoriello must decide whether Cizikas is affordable or, possibly, if prospect Otto Koivula is ready for a full-time NHL role.
There’s no hiding coach Barry Trotz’s affinity for the trio.
"The great thing about it is they were given an identity, they embraced it and they became very good at it," Trotz said. "Marty left for a couple seasons and they got back together and I think they enjoyed that.
"They all have good hockey sense. They have a pretty good skill set as a combination of three. It works."
Notes & quotes: Potential trade target Kyle Palmieri was held out of the Devils’ lineup on Sunday against the Capitals in anticipation of the right wing — who is from Smithtown — being dealt before the April 12 deadline . . . The Islanders will continue a six-game homestand on Tuesday night against the Capitals at Nassau Coliseum, having won the first two games.
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