How the Isles’ formidable ‘Identity Line’ is staying competitive during the NHL pause
Martin, Cizikas, Clutterbuck take to the stationary bike amid pandemic
It’s a far cry from bashing an opponent into the boards, diving in front of a 100-mile-per-hour slap shot or even just sitting beside one another on the bench waiting for their next shift on the ice.
But the New York Islanders’ “Identity Line,” consisting of veteran forwards Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, is remaining competitive and motivated during the NHL’s ongoing pause due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
They’re just doing it remotely.
“Casey, Clutter and I have hopped on the Peloton (indoor exercise bike) a couple of times here to try and up the compete level,” Martin said on the team’s website this week as the NHL passed the one month mark since it suspended play on March 11.
“We’re all super competitive, especially with each other,” added Martin, who is holed up in his Long Island home with his wife, Sydney. “It helps you to get more out of it than if you were to just ride by yourself. Casey, Clutter and I hopping on the Peloton is something simple that keeps that motor going.”
Martin, a 30-year-old left winger now enjoying his second stint with the Isles after playing in Toronto from 2016-18, missed nine games earlier this year with a lower-body injury.
Cizikas and Clutterbuck each missed at least two months after unfortunate run-ins with opponents’ skate blades, the former receiving a gash in his quad muscle while the latter nearly lost an eye at Downtown’s Barclays Center on March 3, which turned out to be the team’s final game in Brooklyn this year.
That left the Isles’ valuable trio, formed and fostered by Head Coach Barry Trotz to take on opponents’ top lines, with only 19 games together on the ice this year after playing nearly 60 as a unit in 2018-19, when New York reached the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It was under 20 games that we actually played together (so far this season),” Martin said. “We’re used to being that Identity Line and playing against other teams’ top lines. We’ve been pretty effective in doing that.
“Without Casey and Clutter, you’ve got guys getting called up and guys getting moved around. It makes it harder to find that cohesion. But through all of this, you can look at some positives, right? If this all ends and we get back to playing, both of those guys are going to be healthy here. Hopefully, we can get back out there to doing what we do best.”
When the Isles will get back to the business of playing hockey is anyone’s guess at this point.
Since shutting down the league in response to the global pandemic, the NHL has pitched several ideas regarding when or how to restart its campaign, which was nearing its stretch run ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“When we’ll have an opportunity to return depends on things that we have absolutely no control over, because it all starts with everybody’s health and well-being,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told CNN on Monday.
“And until there’s a sense that people can get together, not just to fill our arenas, but even our players to get together to work out, we don’t know when we can come back. But it’s something we’re monitoring on a daily basis.”
Martin, who has spent all but two of his 10 NHL seasons on Long Island, has plenty of family up in Windsor, Ontario, where he played in the Ontario Hockey League before being selected by the Isles in the fifth round of the NHL Draft.
“My mom was still working at the time (of the coronavirus outbreak), she works taxes at this time of the year,” Martin revealed. “I was trying to get her to not go to work. They had no confirmed cases at the time in my hometown of Windsor, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot when you hear about so many people that have had it and had symptoms.
“Canada obviously has it now and is on a similar lockdown as us, but with it being more centralized and bigger here in New York, I was able to keep them in the loop and get my family ahead of it, they’re all on lockdown now.”
Martin was in Calgary with the rest of his teammates when the NHL shutdown was announced, canceling the team’s March 12 games against the Flames and sending everyone back to their respective homes.
The Isles were in the midst of a season-high seven-game losing streak at the start of the stoppage and stood a single point out of the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference race.
Whether New York manages to come back and grab a second consecutive postseason spot or not, Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck won’t be using this unscheduled break in the season as a reason for coming up short.
“If we get back to playing here you can either use this [break] as an excuse or you can use it as an advantage,” Martin said.
“We have guys getting healthy and we can all recoup mentally and physically. Mentally, you try to keep an edge. It’s no different than during the season, you’ve got to worry about controlling what you can control. I think we all feel like the light is at the end of the tunnel a bit.”
Isles Have Another: Trotz participated in a Q&A with Islander fans earlier this week and was asked about how ready the team would be if or when the season resumes. “Everybody will be different,” Trotz said. “I would say that guys will need about two weeks and it also depends on how hard they’ve worked during the pause. Generally, it takes about two weeks to get everybody up to the level where they can perform at their peak.” Trotz also chimed in on the importance of the Identity Line to the team’s success. “Those three on our Identity Line have the ability to change the momentum in games,” he noted. “In matchups, they can discourage other lines from going in the corner or playing a certain way with their physical play. Their chemistry together elevates each of their games.”
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