COLUMBUS, Ohio — What, you thought the Identity Line was done and dusted?
Well, for a while, it did indeed look that way. When Cal Clutterbuck left a mid-January game in Buffalo and the Islanders slapped an “indefinite” label on his return and Hudson Fasching seemed to click in Clutterbuck’s usual spot next to Casey Cizikas and nearly two months passed, you could see the writing on the wall.
Who knew if Clutterbuck would be back? And if he was, who knew whether reuniting the Identity Line would be prudent?
The thing about this time of year, though, is that it tends to result in the comfort of familiarity. Across town, you see the Rangers going back to a top-heavy first power-play unit.
On Long Island, you see Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin, together again. Like it should be.
The operative difference between now and the way it’s always been was that Clutterbuck managed to score twice Tuesday and put up three points for the only time in his career, helping make the difference in a blowout 7-2 win over Toronto.
“It’s hard to score when you’re not playing,” Clutterbuck joked of his first goals since Jan. 5 in Edmonton. “Listen, I play the game a certain way. I do things that don’t always involve scoring goals. I also feel like I have the ability to do it when I have the chance. I had chances in San Jose [on Saturday], frustrated by that. Stuck with it. I would like to bury it when I get my chances.”
Clutterbuck, who became the NHL’s all-time hits leader this season, has wasted no time in returning to his usual style of play despite dealing with a slew of injuries this season.
After keeping the Identity Line apart when Clutterbuck first got back in the lineup on March 11, coach Lane Lambert reunited them against the Kings three days later, and it’s getting harder and harder to see that changing.
Against the Leafs, with the Islanders in control of the matchups, they matched the fourth line up against Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on Toronto’s top line for large stretches of the game. A vintage performance.
“I think they’ve been doing a very good job for the most part,” Lambert told reporters following Thursday’s practice. “I thought in California they did a pretty good job. They had some opportunities to score, they did their usual physical play.
“Cal has come back, he helps on the penalty kill, helps spell some minutes from other guys that were on the kill as well so I like what they’re doing a lot, and I thought they had a great game last game. We always hope everyone will get better. They always strive to get better as well so hopefully they’ll continue to grow.”
There’s something about it that makes the Islanders seem whole again.
“The physicality, he’s always gonna bring,” Martin told reporters of Clutterbuck. “Whether he gets hurt or not, he understands what his role is. I think we all do.”
Injuries and age can be set aside, at least in that sense. This is what Clutterbuck has always done, and who he’s always done it with. So it’s little surprise to see him continue doing it, and with Cizikas and Martin alongside him.
“Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game, no matter what type of role you play,” Martin said. “I think from an offensive standpoint to have a game like he did the other night is a huge confidence boost. He’s a very good player. He’s been a good player for a long time.”