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Islanders: Debating who their ‘Jenga Piece’ was this season

Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders (R) congratulates Adam Pelech #3 (R) (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders (R) congratulates Adam Pelech #3 (R) (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Was Adam Pelech or Casey Cizikas the New York Islanders ‘Jenga Piece’ in 2019-20.

I thought it was going to be easy to figure out who the New York Islanders ‘Jenga Piece’ was this season. It’s Adam Pelech. Next! Right? But the more I got to thinking about it the more I was torn between two players.

I’ll just explain what I mean by ‘Jenga Piece’ first. I’m taking my inspiration from Sam Tighe of Bleacher Report who recently posted about each top European soccer team’s ‘Jenga Piece’.

There, Tighe states that the Jenga piece is not the team’s best player, but the ones that are most vital to their team’s efforts. A player that is “the key cog” or “justifies their style”.

Again, I thought this was going to be a slam dunk for Adam Pelech. And to some, it might still be, but there’s also a case to be made for

Casey Cizikas

.

Key Cog

Without Adam Pelech, the Islanders just weren’t the same team this year. We know this because we saw it happen.

Pelech was sidelined with a season-ending Achilles injury in the leadup to a game against the New Jersey Devils on January 2nd, 2020. Just like that, the Isles top defense-first blueliner was out for the rest of the season.

The record is pretty clear as to what happened to the Isles. With Pelech in the lineup, the Isles went 25-10-3 for the fourth-best record in the NHL and had the fifth-lowest goals against in the league at 2.61 goals-against per game.

Once Pelech was sidelined, everything unraveled. The Isles went 10-13-7 for the 25th best record in the NHL and allowed 3.03 goals-against per game (21st overall).

Without Pelech in the lineup, the Islanders just couldn’t run the same defense-first system they typically run. Without Pelech’s ability to keep the front of the net danger free, the Isles just couldn’t function.

That’s it. End of debate. Right? But what about Casey Cizikas?

What About Casey Cizikas?

There’s an argument to be made that Casey Cizikas is the team’s Jenga piece. Without Casey Cizikas, the Islanders ‘Identity Line’ crumbles. During the break, Barry Trotz said that he changed tactics when he was without Cizikas’s line this season.

That alone should be a good enough reason to consider Casey Cizikas as a possible Jenga piece for the New York Islanders. If Barry Trotz is willing to change his winning system because Cizikas isn’t playing he must be an important cog in the Islanders machine.

To be fair, Trotz’s comments were about Cizikas’s line and not Cizikas himself. But if we’re being honest with one-another, Cizikas is the driving force for that line. Without him, the Isles fourth line doesn’t function nearly as well as it does with him.

When Cizikas was out of the lineup this season, the Islanders just didn’t typically play well. Unlike Pelech who was out as of January 2nd, Cizikas was in and out of the lineup. He missed a few games at the start of the season when the Isles were rolling through everyone in a 17-game point streak and the came back.

His biggest chunk of time missed was from February 13 to the end of the season on March 10. Before pick up that ‘season-ending’ leg injury the Isles had started to recover.

While the Isles went 3-5-2 in the ten games after Pelech’s injury (Jan 2 to Jan 19), they started to find their mojo just before Cizikas was shelved going 5-1-1. The Islanders were picking up steam and figuring out how they needed to win without Pelech, but with Cizikas out as well the Islanders just couldn’t persevere.

With both Cizikas and Pelech out, they went 2-7-4 the rest of the way. The only two wins came against Detroit and San Jose.

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I still think that Adam Pelech gets the nod here, but there’s certainly a compelling argument to make for Casey Cizikas to be that player.

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