The New York Islanders have recently been getting a much-needed scoring contribution from a surprising suspect: Casey Cizikas. Here's a look into his goal-scoring surge.
It's no secret that the New York Islanders offense has struggled this season. In fact, the Islanders 122 goals scored currently ranks last among all currently-eligible Eastern Conference playoff teams, an "honor" they've held for most of the season. One player who is not to blame for this dearth of scoring, however, is Casey Cizikas.
It was not too long ago that Cizikas was little more than a gritty, hard-checking fourth-liner. Sure he might score the occasional goal, but he was a lot more likely to be pressed up against an opponent on the glass then he was to set off the red light.
In the 2017-18 season, Cizikas scored seven goals. This concluded his seventh consecutive season of failing to score ten goals. Still, Cizikas was a valuable asset and usually ranked in the top three for blocks and for hits among forwards on the team. The Islanders knew what type of player they were getting in Cizikas, or at least so they thought.
Remarkably, Cizikas more than doubled his goal-output in the 2018-19 season and lit the lamp 20 times. This season, Cizikas has picked up from where he left off last season and has scored nine goals in 38 games. Had he not missed five games this year, he'd likely be on pace for another 20-goal season.
How has Cizikas become somewhat of a goal-scorer all of a sudden? One hypothesis might be that he has shifted his focus from defense to offense. The numbers tell a different story, however.
Technically, Cizikas' hits were down a little last year. He recorded 129 hits in 73 games, good for 1.77 hits/game. Prior to last season, his career average was 1.94 hits/game. Nonetheless, so far this year, he has 107 hits in 38 games, good for a whopping 2.82 hits/game. Moreover, Cizikas blocked a career-best 68 shots last season and is on pace for a similar total this season.
Instead, I propose three factors that have contributed to Cizikas' goal-scoring surge:
1. Increase in TOI
In the 2017-18 season, Cizikas averaged 13:13 TOI. Previously, his TOI season averages ranged anywhere from 10:36 to 13:54. Last season, however, he averaged 14:01 TOI, and so far this season, his average TOI is up to 14:36.
Sure his 14:36 TOI pales in comparison to the near 20-minute average TOI for league-leading goal-scorer David Pastrnak. Still, the extra minute or so on ice provides at least a few more goal-scoring opportunities for Cizikas.
2. Developing a Rapport with Clutterbuck and Martin
Last season, Cizikas' teammates recorded a combined 30 assists on his 20 goals. Of those 30 assists, Clutterbuck was responsible for six and Martin was responsible for four. That means that Clutterbuck assisted on 30%, and Martin assisted on 20%, of Cizikas' goals last season.
In the 2017-18 season, Clutterbuck assisted on just one of Cizikas' seven goals, and Martin did not assist on any.
This season, Clutterbuck had assisted on two of Cizikas' five goals as of December 21, before he went out indefinitely with wrist surgery. Meanwhile, Martin has assisted on both of Cizikas' most recent two goals.
With Clutterbuck out, it'll be interesting to see if Cizikas can get in sync with a different teammate. Leo Komarov has made a good case, as he has assisted on two of Cizikas' goals while slotting in for Clutterbuck.
3. Shooting More Often and More Accurately
Wayne Gretzky famously said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Cizikas has taken this adage to heart, as he has ramped up his shooting efforts. Last season, Cizikas had 111 shots on goal, surpassing 100 for the first time in his career. This, season Cizikas should top 100 as well.
It's not just more shots for Cizikas though; it's better shots. Last season, Cizikas had a shooting percentage of 18%. That was good for second on the team, behind only the 21.8% of Valtteri Filippula. This season, Cizikas again ranks second on the team in shooting percentage among regular skaters. His 16.1% trails only the 16.3% of Mat Barzal.
In comparison, prior to least season, Cizikas' career average shooting percentage was around 10%. In 2017-18, he was shooting at 9.5%.
As a player shoots more often, one would expect their shooting percentage to decrease. For example, Alex Ovechkin leads the league with 212 shots this season, yet he is shooting at 12.3%. Meanwhile, Cizikas has managed to do the very opposite.
Whether Cizikas has become better at finding the gaps in the net, or has become better at finding himself in the right place at the right time, one thing is for certain: he is finding the back of net a lot more often.
Cizikas has become an extremely well-rounded player. He has managed to maintain his defensive mindset and performance while adding a scoring touch. One bonus explanation for Cizikas' goal-scoring surge: he has five short-handed goals in the past two seasons. So yeah, Cizikas even scores goals while killing penalties. Watch out opposing defensemen!