The New York fourth line of Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck has gotten attention for combining physicality typical of a fourth line with offensive skill. In the first round playoff series against the Capitals, the Islanders’ energy line has combined to score a goal, block nine shots and record 46 hits and 14 shots on goal.
“I just think they know their role and responsibility,” Islanders Coach Jack Capuano said. “They’re not a fancy line. They’re a meat and potatoes line. I know as a defenseman on the opposition, that’s a tough line to play against because they chip pucks, they make you turn and they’re coming. They’ve got good sticks and they play physical. They grind it out.
“They play the right way, and that’s why they’re successful.”
New York’s fourth line has been a bear for opponents all season. Cizikas, Martin and Clutterbuck combined for 24 goals and 869 hits entering the postseason. When they share the ice at even strength, 53.6 percent of shot attempts are in the team’s favor and they break even in goals scored, according to puckanalytics.com.
“Not only are they physical, but they can skate,” New York captain John Tavares said. “They’re able to close time and space, generate turnovers and get the puck back for us. They’re certainly able to wear teams down. They’ve produced some big goals for us this year, so they can bring it offensively, too.”
Said Cizikas: “Yeah, it’s nice to score, but our job is to bring energy to the team and come up with a big shift when we need it, so if we can chip in on the scoreboard, that’s nice.
Martin led the NHL in hits with 382 and Clutterbuck was second with 343; no other forward had more than 276. Clutterbuck led the league in hits for three straight seasons when he was with Minnesota.
Clutterbuck didn’t have a home on any line last season, his first with the Islanders after being traded from the Wild, but with Martin and Cizikas this season, the fourth line has remained constant outside of minor injuries. In Game 2, Clutterbuck scored the Islanders’ first goal on a hard snap shot.
“He adds a different dynamic,” Cizikas said. “He’s like Marty. They hit everything. The shot he has is unbelievable. He’s a smart player, he’s reliable in the defensive zone, and it definitely helps as a line. When you gel together and you come together as a line, it makes it easier on the other two when you know what that one person is doing.”
Martin said Capuano revealed his vision for the fourth line at Martin’s exit meeting after a disappointing last season, and after putting the trio together at the start of the year, Capuano kept it intact. The line has been used in key moments, in close games at the end of third periods when other coaches may not trust in their fourth line. When they threw their bodies around two minutes into Sunday’s game, the Nassau Coliseum crowd roared to reward their hits.
“Anytime you get those guys banging and crashing, every time they stepped onto the ice, every time there was a body thrown, the crowd was up on its feet,” Capuano said. “You can feel the energy on the bench, not only from Casey’s line, but also from the fans. That has a lot to do with your team and the emotion and the energy that you have. They got us going right from the get go.”