It was only fitting that on a night when the New York Islanders set a new NHL record for hits in a game with 63 (the stat has been officially kept since 2005-06), the fourth line led the way. The line of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin not only set the tone with their physical play, but netted the game-winning goal when Cizikas put home a rebound of a deflected shot by defenseman Marek Zidlicky to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead over the visiting New Jersey Devils at Barclays Center.
“It’s the new NHL, to be honest with you,” coach Jack Capuano said after the game. “The guys have been scoring the goals and going into those ‘gritty areas.’
When asked about the fourth line, Capuano added, “They know who they are and they know what their responsibility is. They give us great energy…They’re going to give us big goals and timely goals…Our other lines feed off that…Once they they established who they are and what they do for our team, the fans know what to expect from them. The opposition knows, too. They’re physical, they hit, they grind. If you’re the opposition playing against that line, it’s tough because you know they’re going to be physical.”
In addition to Cizikas’ game-winner, the fourth line was credited with 16 hits led by Clutterbuck with nine and Martin with six.
Cizikas was pleased to come up with the game-winner and was quick to credit his teammates. “We had just come off a good shift down low and [Strait] did a good job of getting the puck through,” Cizikas explained. “Marty [Matt Martin] made an unbelievable tip-in and I was just there to get the rebound.”
“You look at the majority of the goals we’ve scored this year, it comes from retrieving pucks, getting pucks back down low and getting pucks to the net,” Clutterbuck added. “You’ve got to give Marty (Matt Martin) and Z (Casey Cizikas) a lot of credit for being below the goal line and working really hard. They’re really making it hard on the other team.”
While playing on an NHL fourth line is rarely a glamorous position, the Isles trio is very proud of their hard work and of their contributions to the team.
“We’ve going to use the tools in our toolbox to help the team win just like Kyle [Okposo] and Johnny [Tavares] and Fransie [Nielsen] are going to use their tools to help the team win. We do what we do and we’re not going to change,” Clutterbuck said. “There’s a purpose to what we do out there…This is our job and we’re going to contribute the way we know how.”
With captain John Tavares out of the lineup with an illness and the team in a three-game winless streak, this game was tailor-made for the fourth line and the trio rose to the occasion.
“They [the Devils] came out to be very physical tonight,” Martin said. “They played chippy and we responded with chippy-ness and in a divisional game, that’s exactly what you want…Cal had a bunch of big hits, Casey was getting in there and that’s what we need to do.”
When the line is clicking, it picks up the crowd and the entire Islanders’ bench. “There’s a buzz we try to create,” Martin added. “We try to play with a lot of energy and when Cal’s going in on the forecheck, you can kind of hear the crowd kind of getting ready for it. When we’re on the ice, we bring a certain energy and excitement and the fans do a good job of helping us feed off that energy.”
The result tonight was a much-needed 2-1 win over a division opponent to get the Isles back on track.
The Isles penalty-killing streak ended at 29 tonight when Travis Zajac scored a power play goal for the Devils early in the third period. The PK remains a strength for the team and killed 4-of-5 chances the Devils had tonight.
The Islanders debuted their new third uniforms tonight. The black-and-white jerseys are now 1-0-0 in regular season play.