Ailing ‘identity line’ at center of Islanders’ struggles

Ailing ‘identity line’ at center of Islanders’ struggles

Injuries have forced the Islanders to scramble in more ways than one this season.

From AHL call-ups, last-minute deals at the trade deadline and sifting through a million-and-one line combinations, the Islanders, losers of seven of their last 10 games, are actively trying to get back to their brand of hockey.

General manager Lou Lamoriello patched up the loss of defenseman Adam Pelech (out for season with torn Achilles tendon) with a trade for Andy Greene on Feb. 16 and brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau days later to make up for the extended absences of forwards Cal Clutterbuck (wrist) and Casey Cizikas (leg laceration).

Clutterbuck returned to the lineup in Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Bruins after missing 30 consecutive games, but Cizikas is expected to be out longer than his initial 3-4 week prognosis. That has put the fourth-line, deemed the “identity” line that Trotz has been itching to get back, on hold.

“Itching?” Trotz quipped following Tuesday’s practice. “It’s a rash right now. A big rash.”

The identity line, which usually consists of Clutterbuck, Cizikas and Matt Martin, has played in less than 20 games together so far this season. Considering the trio has been skating on the same line since the 2014-15 season, Clutterbuck’s first with the club, the chemistry they bring to the ice is invaluable.

The loss to Boston was the third time the Islanders have been shut out since Cizikas was cut by Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov’s skate blade on Feb. 11. The Islanders have gone 2-5-2 without Cizikas, who has still yet to resume skating since sustaining the injury.

“We went on the front end and they dug in a little bit and it’s probably a little aggressive, if you will,” Trotz said of Cizikas’ injury. “But at the same time, he’s a freak when it comes to injury. You don’t think he’s going to play and then he’s ready in like two days. I’ve seen it a couple times this year, where he was supposed to be out for a lot longer and he came back. This one is a little bit of the reverse right now.

“He’s got such a big heart and a drive train that when he’s capable of going, he’s knocking on my door… But he’s not there yet.”

With Cizikas still out indefinitely, Trotz’s ability to roll with all four lines is limited and the team’s intensity has been impacted. Martin acknowledged that injuries are something that all teams in the league are dealing with at this point in the season, but he said that playing alongside Clutterbuck Saturday felt slightly odd without Cizikas at center.

“It’s so easy [playing with Clutterbuck and Cizikas] because you just know the mindset and what we want to do,” Martin told The Post Tuesday. “You know pucks are going to be going in certain areas, so you kind of get a head start on it. It makes everyone look faster.

“You know where they’re going to be all the time. It’s different playing with different guys.”

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