Islanders 4th Line Will Be Pivotal in Upcoming Road Trip

The New York Islanders are about to begin a season-defining road trip that will determine if they can compete with the best teams in the league and remain one of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division. With a 17-12 record, they will look to keep up with their divisional rivals while playing the Boston Bruins, Arizona Coyotes, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, and New York Rangers.

Related: Pelech’s Absence Could Derail Islanders’ Promising Season

These five games will demand the entire roster to step up if the Islanders hope to end the trip with a winning record. Particularly, they need the fourth line to play their best hockey of the season. Often called the “Identity Line” the line consisting of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin will be the one that gives the Islanders an edge in this crucial stretch of games.

Islanders Need Scoring Depth

The Islanders’ fourth line hasn’t typically been great offensively and this season has been no exception. They have only recorded seven goals and 12 assists combined, which Brock Nelson with 14 goals and 14 assists has more of by himself. However, the 6-4 win against the New Jersey Devils was a reminder that they can add a spark to the offense when needed.

With the puck in the offensive zone, Cizikas created a turnover and a quick scoring chance. With the puck available, he quickly shot it past Devils goaltender Akira Schmid to give the Islanders their sixth goal of the game. It was a classic fourth-line play that set up a pivotal goal at a crucial moment to help seal the victory.

Similarly, in Game 2 of the 2021 Second Round against the Bruins, Cizikas scored the game-winning goal that flipped the momentum of the series. With the game tied 3-3 in overtime, Cizikas stole the puck at the Islanders’ blue line to create a quick breakaway chance where he scored the game-winner to even up the series at one win apiece.

Latest News & Highlights

The Islanders’ forward unit is built on depth and the ability to play four potent lines on a nightly basis. The bottom six contributing to the offense will be crucial in the upcoming stretch, especially against teams like the Bruins and Golden Knights. The Islanders are about to face some of the best teams in the NHL and a goal from the fourth line could be the difference in these matchups.

Helping the Islanders’ Defense

Adam Pelech hasn’t played since Dec. 6 when he hit his head on the boards in the 7-4 loss to St. Louis Blues and it’s unclear when he will return. He is one of the best defensemen on the team and the Islanders need to find another top-pair option on the left side for the upcoming games. Along with finding defensemen to step up in his absence, they also need their forwards to help out and play a big role defensively.

Adam Pelech New York Islanders
Adam Pelech, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The fourth line is arguably the best defensive forward line on the roster, highlighted by the strong play of Cizikas in the middle of the ice and Clutterbuck’s hard-hitting presence on the wing. They can limit opposing offenses in the next five games, including some of the best offenses in the NHL. The Bruins average a league-leading 3.89 goals per game while the Golden Knights, Avalanche, and Rangers all average over three goals per game, and strong defensive play from the fourth line will prevent the upcoming opponents from overwhelming the Islanders.

Setting the Tone

The fourth line can often slow the game down if needed to help the Islanders build momentum. Similarly, their forecheck can throw any opposing offense off their rhythm and make them uncomfortable, especially if they are trying to carry the puck out of their zone or along the boards.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the fourth line notably helped the Islanders take control of the series and advance to the Second Round. The Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel, thrived on overwhelming opponents with their speed and quick puck movement. However, when Cizikas, Clutterbuck, and Martin were on the ice, they would force turnovers with their forecheck and provide reliable defensive play to help the Islanders control the puck and pace of the game.

Cal Clutterbuck Matt Martin New York Islanders
Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders don’t play the chip-and-chase style as much as in previous years, especially with first-year head coach Lane Lambert behind the bench. Instead, they carry the puck into the offensive zone or pass it to the blue line to start up the offense, which the fourth line tends to struggle with. However, the upcoming games might see the Islanders shift to that type of game to slow the pace of play down and help them settle in. If that becomes the case, the fourth line will play a major role in setting the tone and allowing the team to take control of games early on.

Other Islanders That Need to Step Up

The Islanders will need the defensive unit to step up in Pelech’s absence. Specifically, they need the younger defensemen, both Robin Salo and Sebastian Aho, to take on greater roles and use their skating ability to help the team in transition and on the offensive end of the ice. Likewise, the Islanders need their wingers to step up if Kyle Palmieri, who hasn’t played since Nov. 21 and is dealing with an upper-body injury, remains out of the lineup. Since his injury, the offense has lacked a strong shooting presence and the production has declined as a result.

The Islanders are in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, trailing the Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and a resurgent Penguins team that has won five games in a row. The next five games could see them keep up with the top teams in the division but similarly, a skid could see them fall out of a playoff position.

Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.

The Hockey Writers HockeyPedia 800x120