The NY Islanders' identity line has been together for nine of the last 11 seasons, forming one of the most formidable fourth lines in the league. As they become greyer in the beard (or would be if they had beards), injuries are bound to occur more frequently. With Cal Clutterbuck playing only 49 games last season, missing him was a tremendous loss for the team's identity.
Through two games this season, the Isles' fourth line seems rejuvenated and looking like the selves of five years ago. But as the season carries on and little knocks become more challenging to bounce back from, managing their minutes becomes crucial to the team's success over a full season.
Unlike in years past, the Isles have the depth they can rely on, allowing Lane Lambert to give Clutterbuck and Matt Martin a night off more often than in years past. The emergence last season of Hudson Fasching gives Lambert another option to slide onto either wing next to Casey Cizikas without losing much. Fasching appeared in 49 games last season, playing his most effective on that fourth line.
Giving Martin or Clutterbuck the night off also allows Oliver Wahlstrom on Julien Gauthier to slot alongside JG Pageau on the third line, bringing more of a scoring dynamic or a jolt in the team's overall speed.
The question is, when will Lambert decide to implement these lineup changes?
The Isles play their first of a back-to-back tonight as the NJ Devils make their first trip of the season to UBS Arena and will travel to Buffalo afterward for their second in two nights against the Sabres. With two games in two nights, Lambert will have his first opportunity to give one of his wrecking ball forwards an opportunity to rest.
While the team is playing well, there's a reluctance to change what's working, but making occasional changes to preserve longevity will be crucial down the line.