In the month of November, the Islanders went on a tear, going 11-3-0 and establishing themselves as an elite team capable of competing at the very top of the standings. Part of this is down to the return of the 4th line doing what it does best, playing physical hockey, agitating the opposition and providing offense in clutch moments, something that was badly missing during last season with Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas having down years and only just managing to beat their points totals in a full 82 game season from the 48 game lockout season the year before, so what’s changed?
The addition of Cal Clutterbuck seems to help drive play on that line, not only does he bring outright skill but he’s a pest and his ability to draw penalties is vastly underrated. While Colin McDonald was popular with the fans (with good reason) it seemed more and more like he didn’t have what it takes to be an NHL player and he’s now in Bridgeport providing invaluable leadership to the younger forwards, this gap has enabled Clutterbuck to slot in and add physicality alongside Martin.
By all accounts, including his own, Casey Cizikas had a torrid year last season, scoring just 6 times in 80 games and being a non factor in most of the games. This season that’s a different story as he already has 4 goals and 8 points through 25 games, he only needs 3 more to beat his career best of 6 which he has managed the last two seasons. Coach Jack Capuano healthy scratched him earlier in the season just so he could take a step back and simplify his game and this seems to have done the trick as recently as two nights ago in Ottawa where he scored the game winning goal with just over five minutes left in the game.
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There is almost certainly not a member of the Islanders who polarises opinion more than Matt Martin, to some he’s a moral leader who’s physical, intimidating and brings an edge to the team that it needs. To others he’s an overrated goon who has no place being on the team and is wasting a roster spot. Again, the latter was true to an extent last season, however Martin has improved dramatically as he once again leads the league in hits but finally imposing himself again on the boards instead of collecting soft hits away from the puck which puts the team in a weak position defensively on odd man rushes.
However the biggest reason why the fourth line is flourishing again is usage by Jack Capuano. During 2013/14 and even early this season he would give the 4th line too much ice time in all situations, Matt Martin is not someone who has the skillset to be on the PK, PP and extra man at the end of games, with simplified roles, the 4th line is able to relieve the pressure on the other three lines instead of dragging them down and the end result is a more balanced offense.