For most of the past few seasons, the New York Islanders have had the best fourth line in the NHL. They have been able to contribute offensively as well as play against the opponent’s top forwards. After a slow start to the season, their fourth line picked their play up as New York established themselves as a potential playoff contender. However, in the past month, the trio of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck have struggled immensely.
Clutterbuck has previously been out with an injury and returned on Thursday. He has only three goals and nine points this year. For Cizikas, his scoring has remained high for a fourth-line center. He has seven goals and 14 points, while Martin has provided the Islanders with six goals. The trio is also generally among the league leaders in hits and tends to set the tempo as the starting unit. While the Islanders have been getting contributions from players like Anthony Beauvillier and both tremendous defense and goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin for the most part, New York’s fourth line has seen their play decline.
Fourth Line Struggles
The Islanders have seen their fourth line score only one even-strength goal through the first 12 games of April. Martin had one goal on the power play but has seen his chances on the man advantage become limited following the acquisition of Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. Clutterbuck has always been one of the team’s top penalty killers, though he has not been able to produce much offensively. Unlike many fourth lines in the league, the Islanders play their identity line roughly 15 minutes a game.
The bigger concern for them has been their play in the defensive zone. While they normally see plenty of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, head coach Barry Trotz has turned two of his three other lines to shut down the opposition’s forwards. Clutterbuck is a minus-8 since March 18, while Cizikas and Martin are minus-6. They all struggled immensely in the Islanders’ last game as they were on the ice for three of the Capitals’ six goals.
Even with all the struggles, Trotz has continued to stick with the trio. He has been faced with tough lineup decisions for much of the past few games, and instead of breaking up his fourth line, Trotz has sat his young rookie in Oliver Wahlstrom, who currently has nine goals this season.
Zajac, who has played in over 1,000 games in his NHL career, sat in the press box earlier this week. Trotz has yet to either sit or break up anybody in the fourth line despite the lack of production. A big reason for that has been their play on the penalty kill, as both Cizikas and Clutterbuck are the team’s top penalty killers. The Islanders are 24-for-25 down a man in the last 11 games and even saw themselves scored a shorthanded goal on Saturday against the Washington Capitals.
It has come to a point in the season of who are they going to play in the postseason instead of making it. As of right now, the Islanders sit in third place in the East Division and would face the Capitals. The Islanders’ fourth line has played well in the postseason the past few seasons, as Martin was one of the team’s hottest goal scorers in the 2020 playoffs. For them, with a seven-point lead on the New York Rangers, they are going to be fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round and potentially look to win the division and get home ice throughout the postseason. After a long playoff run last season, the Islanders hope to be able to duplicate that this season.