Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
If there’s been one player on the New York Islanders that has been an ultra positive this season, it’s Casey Cizikas.
Back now with his favorite running mates — Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin — Cizikas has looked rejuvenated and is has adjusted near perfectly to head coach Barry Trotz’s new system. That line being re-formed has given the Isles an identity once again, something that both Trotz and g.m. Lou Lamoriello preached loudly when they both took over their respective positions in the summer.
“He brings a lot of the intangibles [and] he drives a lot of the things you do day in and day out,” Trotz said to Newsday’s Andrew Gross back in November. “Everything from energy to practice, he’s a really good penalty killer, and he can play against anybody. His motor is running all the time and you need that on a team.
Cizikas, 27, is on pace to tie or even top his career-best numbers that he posted in the 2015-16 campaign.
That season, Cizikas tallied 29 points in 80 games and helped the Islanders reach the playoffs for a second consecutive season. That campaign was also the second straight year Cizikas gained national attention from being apart of the trio with Clutterbuck and Martin that was dubbed “The Best Fourth Line Ever in Hockey” by the legendary coach and Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Don Cherry. After the Isles bowed out to the Lightning in the second round, Martin, a free agent, signed with Toronto, breaking up the threesome.
It’s very clear that once Martin departed, both Cizikas and Clutterbuck were not the same players. In Cizikas case, he was able to ease Martin’s absence the first season still scoring 25 points. But injuries and inconsistency had peaked their heads into Cizikas game the last two seasons. Those injuries — and there were several — forced Cizikas to miss 23 games in 2016-17 and 18 last season. His point total took a big hit last year, as he recorded just 17 points — his lowest since his after his rookie year.
Cizikas has been that energizer bunny Trotz took notice of from the moment the season began.
There’s not one game, other than when Cizikas was out, that their wasn’t a shift that he, Martin, and Clutterbuck weren’t throwing their bodies around causing disarray for the opposing defenses. But it’s not just the well-known physicality and identity Cizikas is displaying, he’s also been scoring clutch goals.
Some of those big goals have set the tone for wins for his team. He scored the team’s first of three unanswered goals in their 3-2 win in Detroit over a week ago. His goal in Los Angeles was the first in a 7-2 rout. His others, the game-winner in the Islanders 3-2 comeback win in their first game back at Nassau Coliseum and the go-ahead goal late in regulation this past weekend in the team’s 4-3 shootout victory.
Also simply put, the Islanders are a better team when Cizikas is in the lineup. Not just offensively, but on the penalty kill as well. The short time he’s missed this season from mid to late November, the Isles went 3-3-0, but were beat down bad in two of the three losses in those six games.
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) December 16, 2018
Cizikas in 24 games this season already has notched eight goals and seems like he’s focusing even more on offense this season. His 31 shots is nothing to go crazy over. But when it comes from a fourth-line grinder, who’s job is to cause havoc and chip in offensively once in a while, it just adds to how important a role Cizikas plays in the total makeup of the team. His absurd 25.8 shooting percentage — second most to newcomer Valtteri Filppula — also personifies that Cizikas this season has been in the right place at the right time.
Already past the first quarter of the season, Cizikas’ performance could come as a surprise to many, but not to those who have watched him since he first joined the Islanders back in 2011-12.
Always a heart and soul type of player, Cizikas has always brought it every night and has always been underrated offensively. Anytime he’s on the ice, and it’s been very noticeable all season long, he makes a difference.
If the Islanders are going to continue stay in the hunt for the playoffs, they’re going to need Cizikas, their “junkyard dog”, to keep performing beyond expectations. It’s obvious that Trotz and his staff know what they have in the Toronto native and he continues to repay their trust.
A lot has changed for the Islanders going into the new year, but Cizikas having the season he’s had should come as a surprise to nobody.