Islanders’ Fourth Line with Freak Injuries in 2019-20

The New York Islanders’ fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck is considered one of the top fourth lines in the NHL. They play a physical brand of hockey that many teams are not used to and can chip in with timely goals. However, the trio had a rough season and was never able to get going. Before the suspension of the NHL season, the three missed a combined 64 games this year. The 2019-20 season seemed destined for another playoff run after the Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019, but it became a battle for a playoff spot in their final games.

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Clutterbuck missed time after he was cut by Patrice Bergeron’s skate. Around the time he came back, Cizikas was then cut by a skate; both players were on injured reserve for a significant amount of time. Martin missed time after the door to the Ottawa Senators’ bench was left open and he injured his knee.

Impact to the Team

Head coach Barry Trotz routinely plays this trio against the opposition’s top forwards. In last season’s first-round playoff series, Cizikas was matched with Crosby for much of the four games. This season, with the line not at full strength, the Islanders had to shuffle their rotation late in games instead of rolling out all four lines for 60 minutes. When Ross Johnston or Tom Kuhnhackl was on the fourth line, they weren’t going to see a lot of third-period minutes when the Islanders were protecting a lead.

New York Islanders Casey Cizikas
New York Islanders center Casey Cizikas (53) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders won 4-2. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

One of the Islanders’ problems is that, even when the fourth line is healthy, they have too many players who fill the same type of role. Johnston plays the same game as Martin, though he seems to score more. Martin is also less likely to fight. Cole Bardreau is a similar type of player to Cizikas. However, Bardreau was on the third line. Leo Komarov and Kuhnhackl, at best, are fourth line players.

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Also, both Cizikas and Clutterbuck are penalty killers. When they were out of the lineup, the penalty kill suffered. Not only were they excellent in the defensive zone, but they could also score shorthanded goals. Players like Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey were forced to fill in. While they were able to do the job most of the time, it took away from their five-on-five ice time.

Lack of Scoring

There aren’t too many fourth lines that contribute offensively the way the Islanders’ trio has done. Last season, Cizikas scored a career-high 20 goals. He would have come close to that number again had he not missed time. Martin only scored five goals, and Clutterbuck — who’s had as many as 15 in a season with the Islanders — only scored three.

Cal Clutterbuck New York Islanders
Cal Clutterbuck, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders also went through a couple of tough stretches on the road when they were unable to score goals. It hurts when they don’t have their prolific fourth line chipping in. Many of the replacements failed to score much. Komarov had two empty netters and one off a lucky bounce for three of his four goals all season.

Also, many of the Islanders’ young prospects were forced to fill in on the fourth line but were not able to score. Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows could be big-time players in the future, but they rarely saw ice time with Mat Barzal and Brock Nelson.

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One of the positives of the NHL shutdown is that this line can get some rest. They are not accustomed to playing as late into spring as they did last season in the playoffs, and they battled many injuries this year. Hopefully, if the NHL resumes at some point, they will have all three of their fourth line forwards at 100 percent for the rest of the season