The Islanders’ nominal fourth line was its most consistent the previous two seasons. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck brought lots of hits and a few clutch goals to the table and those were ingredients that Jack Capuano loved. He kept those three together for two straight seasons while the other three lines went through a blender.
Martin headed off to the Maple Leafs for four years and $10 million on July 1. Early in training camp, Capuano decided he had the ingredients for another superb “fourth” line (the three lines John Tavares doesn’t play on usually get equal even-strength minutes), putting Nikolay Kulemin in Martin’s spot.
It took a few preseason games together to get moving, but that trio showed it could have some life when it awoke a moribund Isles team with two goals in the first 4:04 of the third period to tie the Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Nick Leddy got the first, off a feed from Cizikas. Clutterbuck got the second, a neat deflection of Kulemin’s shot about six inches off the ice and through Henrik Lundqvist’s legs to knot the score.
It didn’t last, as the Islanders’ disjointed play couldn’t sustain the rally in losing the season opener, 5-3 But among the few positives was the work of the new fourth line.
“Our game’s pretty simple — north-south, get pucks deep, provide energy when we can,” Cizikas said. “We have to continue moving forward, building that chemistry with Kulie, and it takes time and a lot of hard work.”
There’s a lot for the Islanders to work on when a larger view of Thursday night’s opener is taken. They came out sloppily, unable to get out in transition and also unable to sustain much of a forecheck outside of a few bursts.
Their goals, including Brock Nelson’s late goal to account for the final score, came off the rush. There was none of that in the first 40 minutes, which helped keep the Islanders off the scoreboard through two periods.
“We have to find a way to generate more offense, be a little more effective on the forecheck,” said Tavares, who had seven shot attempts to lead the Islanders. “We just have to be quicker to make some plays. You could see how strong we were in front of their net at times. We just need to sustain it.”
Notes & quotes: Anthony Beauvillier struggled along with his more senior teammates in the opening two periods, but the 19-year-old had some better moments in the third in his NHL debut, assisting on Nelson’s goal. “Actually, I thought I would be more nervous,” he said. “I felt it a little in warmups and the first period, but by the second and third, I felt comfortable. I felt I could play with these guys.” . . . Fellow teenager Mathew Barzal and Alan Quine were healthy scratches . . . Tavares took a J.T. Miller slash to his left thumb in the third period but said after the game that he was just sore.