A large part of the Islanders success in recent years has been their physicality. No amount of pressure from certain hockey fans can rid the game of its aggressive nature, and we ought to remember that as we move forward with this group. We have had the pleasure of seeing the epic fourth line of Martin, Cizikas, and Clutterbuck crashing hard on the forecheck, laying hits, and scoring goals to round out their reliable efforts as our ‘Identity Line’. Additionally, we have Pageau on the third line, who despite his stature is one of our feistier players, and Anders Lee leading the way in physicality as he does in all aspects of the game. Ross Johnston, when in the lineup, certainly serves as our best example of a pure enforcer. He can stand in there with anyone in the league and has proven so with limited ice time. The recently retired, Zdeno Chara, served as an aggressive d-man who dropped the gloves willingly throughout his final season. Him and Martin alone accounted for 11 of the 24 total fights in the 2022-23 season, so with Chara gone and an aging fourth line, we do have to wonder if we can maintain our level of physicality moving forward.
A lot of the questions surrounding this season are related to what Coach Lambert can get out of this roster, and high-intensity physical play is a part of that. It is our willingness to grind and beat up other teams that has gotten us as far as we have; it kept us in those series’ with Tampa Bay, as well as the series against the Capitals in the bubble, and helped win us a round against Boston in 2021. More sentimental to us Islander fans, too, was getting to see them bully the Rangers for a little while until Reaves joined the squad, which leads me to wonder about our place in the Metropolitan Division.
In a recent podcast from the guys at 32 Thoughts, it was reported that Flyer’s development coach, Chris Stewart, was working with some of the team’s rookies on their fighting skills. Now this is obviously not too surprising for most people to hear, but as Jeff Marek points out, it is rare for that to be a part of team-wide training and not just a veteran showing a young guy how to drop ‘em. This followed a particular youngster coming off clueless against the Rangers in a recent scrum during an exhibition game. Forward, Cam Atkinson, has recently cited the team’s surmounting attitude and even referenced the Isles fourth line as a good example – “…you know when those guys are on the ice”. The Flyers are adamant about returning to the mix with a more competitive team under new head coach, John Tortorella. Tortorella is known for his old-school mentality, and no one else in the metro is excited to have him back in there.
What teams in the metro, as of now, can bully us around? The Rangers might be the only team with a major edge, with Reaves and Trouba, and possibly the Flyers if they are really looking to revamp the Broadstreet Bullies identity with guys like Deslauriers and MacEwan. However, that is assuming we do maintain the same level of toughness as we have in the past. No one else in the metro (Pens, Caps, Blue Jackets, Canes, Devils) stands out as an overtly physical team. With largely the same roster, I wouldn’t suspect we will be a team that gets pushed around this season. The addition of the young and physical Alexander Romanov from Montreal is another plus for our physicality. He will play an important role in the way this season unfolds.
The Islanders kick off the Preseason with a bout against the Rangers on Monday, September 26th @ 7pm EST.
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