It was a big win, a huge win, an enormous win. The Islanders played intense hockey and the pass Mathew Barzal made to Anders Lee on the game-winning goal was just ridiculous. While I’m tempted to highlight that play in this post, I’d like to talk about the fourth line instead.
Why? Because Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin are the heart and soul of this hockey team.
These guys set the tone for this team with their relentless, physical style of play. This sounds cliche, and that’s fine, and it’s true. Barry Trotz starts every period off with this trio because they establish an energy and a base level work ethic that’s contagious throughout the lineup. It’s a vicious cycle. When the game’s at home, the crowd feeds off their physicality and, in turn, the team feeds off the crowd.
So it was last night from the opening faceoff to the final buzzer. It was a prototypical Islanders win and it started with the Cizikas line spending the first 30+ seconds of the game forechecking and cycling in the offensive zone against Montreal’s second line. Here’s that shift:
That is just beautiful work by these guys. They throw hits, they cycle the puck effectively, they support each other and they create scoring chances. In fact, of the 12 most commonly-used Islanders forwards, Clutterbuck and Cizikas rank first and third, respectively, in on-ice high danger scoring chance differential. Lemme tell you something: that’s some crazy shit.
The Islanders’ 1-1-3 trap is technically a “defensive” system because the “3” means they’re basically playing three defenders at the defensive zone blue line. But the objective of the system is to generate a counterattack and the means by which that is accomplished is the forecheck.
When this team is playing well, it’s because they’re forechecking like hounds. Here are a few more shifts from last night where the Cizikas line did just that:
Is that beautiful or what?
These are plays that Montreal had the opportunity to break out of their zone on. A clean retrieval followed by one or two quick passes and play would be going the other way. But the fourth line’s forecheck did not allow them the time or space to break out. They hounded them all night long and if not for an otherworldly performance in net from Carey Price, they could’ve easily buried at least two goals last night.
They’ve been doing it all season long and will no doubt continue playing a pivotal role as the team gets closer to the playoffs.
See you this weekend.