3 NY Islanders line combinations to consider with Casey Cizikas sidelined

What can Lane Lambert experiment with to spark the team's offense?

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Islanders
Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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The NY Islanders have seen inconsistency on each line this season. During the early season struggles, Lane Lambert shuffled the lines on a nightly basis. The team first saw Simon Holmstrom play on the top line with Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat, then Oliver Wahlstrom, until finally settling on Anders Lee. The second line started the season hot until cooling off drastically in recent weeks, with Brock Nelson’s points coming on the powerplay. The third line has seen a shuffle between Wahlstrom and Julien Gauthier, while Hudson Fasching has seen time on all four lines.

The only line that seems to be a constant in terms of personnel and production is the 'Identity Line'. While Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin do not produce much offense, the team can always rely on their heavy hits to wear down opponents.

However, Cizikas' status is currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury. Without Cizikas on the bottom line, many roles will now become undefined to account for his absence. We've already seen several different line combinations to start the last four games and have also seen Lambert go back to the usual lines and double-shift players as necessary.

Here are some new options the coach should consider to get things going,

Option 1: Anders Lee-Brock Nelson-Kyle Palmieri

The captain started the season without a defined role outside of providing leadership on and off the ice. Last season, Lee predominantly played alongside Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier on the Isles second line, which seemed to be the only line producing before the trade deadline. Following the departure of Beauvillier to the Vancouver Canucks for Horvat, Lou Lamoriello acquired Pierre Engvall from the Toronto Maple Leafs to accommodate the winger's production. However, Barzal would miss the remainder of the regular season, leaving every line a game-time decision.

The idea behind Engvall's 7-year contract was that he would play alongside Nelson and Kyle Palmieri, meaning Lee would be moved to either the top or third line. Lambert experimented with Lee on the third line with J.G. Pageau until Holmstrom found a niche in this role. Afterward, Lee was moved back to the top line, which produced mixed results. After a brilliant offensive month in December, Lee has cooled off, only scoring 2 points in the last six games including a -5 rating in the last five.

Lee should switch roles and play on the Isles' second line. Engvall's production has been anemic this season, producing just 5 goals and 9 assists through 40 games. He is now pointless in his last six games, which has led to a drop in production from Nelson and Palmieri as well. Nelson is a player who can both score with a wrist shot and on the wrap-around, while Palmieri has a heavy slap shot. Given their offensive profiles, Lee's strength of deflecting shots toward the net would help increase their production.

Option 2: Simon Holmstrom-Mathew Barzal-Oliver Wahlstrom

With Cizikas on the sidelines, Barzal has seen time at the center position playing alongside Holmstrom and Palmieri. Lambert has drawn these lines to start the game against the Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators but has moved Barzal back to playing with Horvat and Lee in the second and third periods. In a short sample size, Holmstrom has provided Barzal with a faster skater that can set him up well for a shot on the net while also aggressively turning the puck over at the blue line.

Though Holmstrom and Pageau caught lightning in a bottle on the penalty kill, their production on the third line has fallen. They were a -3 together against the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks. Furthermore, the lack of offensive zone time has seen the third line play countless games without a shot on goal. Given the recent performance, a change for Holmstrom in 5-on-5 action will do him well.

Wahlstrom has struggled to find ice time even when he’s in the lineup. He did not touch the ice in the third period on Saturday without an explanation from Lambert for this decision. However, Wahlstrom has taken advantage of small opportunities with a couple of quality shots and strong forechecks early in the Maple Leafs game. Barzal would pair nicely with someone who is not afraid to take a hard slapshot. In addition to Holmstrom’s offensive zone protection, this line is worth experimenting with.

Option 3: Hudson Fasching-J.G. Pageau-Julien Gauthier

Pageau has struggled to find offensive consistency all season. He is on pace for 10 goals and 26 assists, which would both be career lows should he play a full season. Much of this is due to more defensive than offensive zone time with his entrees across the blue line with Holmstrom being lackluster in 5-on-5 action. The lack of zone time has given Pageau just 52 shots on goal, which is also on pace for the lowest in his career.

Fasching has seen his role change every week this season. One week he is a lineup regular, then the next week he is on the bench. In one game he is on the second line, then the next he is on the ‘Identity Line’. This lack of consistency has prevented the 28-year-old from finding the rhythm that the team saw last season when he broke out with 10 goals and 9 assists through 49 games.

Gauthier started the season in Ross Johnston’s bench role. He only played 3 games between October and November until finding consistent ice time on the Isles’ third line. In a short sample, Gauthier is similar to Fasching where he can drive towards the net with great speed and a solid forecheck Adding Fasching and Gauthier’s speed to a line with Pageau would give the veteran center a better opportunity to get in front of the net. They have all spent far too much time in the defensive zone when paired with players of lesser speed, which has provided more opportunity to the opponents.