Call them Foot Soldiers, call them Grunts or call them The Underrated.
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Cizikas, sidelined with an injury, was conspicuous by his absence Tuesday night in the Sunshine State. The Isles’ premier penalty-killer might have saved them from suffering the two Lightning power-play goals that cost the Brooklynites their game in Tampa Bay.
So ask any general and he’ll tell you that no army can win a war without its infantry and every hockey coach will add that no club worth its weight in Zambonis can excel without The Underrated.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
1. CASEY CIZIKAS
If any Islander has been conspicuous by his absence these nights — out with lower body injury — Casey is that man. Name a hockey-playing value — be it face-offs, never-quitting, offense-playing-defense, penalty-killing — Mister Hustle is up there with the best.
“Casey brings everything, every shift,” coach Doug Weight asserted. “He’s hard to play against. He’s feisty and has vision.”
In days gone by, he originally was paired with Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin. Cizikas most recently was aligned with Cal and Jason Chimera before being sidelined. As one fan, Zach Spal, told me, “Cizikas livens the team with hard hits and getting in your face type of play.” The quicker he returns, the happier Weight & the Isles will be.
“We count on him on the penalty-kill,” added Weight.
2. JORDAN EBERLE
The jury will remain out at least until the end of this season on whether the Islanders trumped Edmonton in dealing the disappointing Ryan Strome for Eberle. But it says here that the move was not only addition by subtraction, but also that Jordan has become a vital addition to the Isles second line.
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If anyone has helped the rapid maturation of Mathew Barzal as a potential Calder Trophy-winner, Eberle is that man. What’s more, The Kid and The Vet have made beautiful music together as a passing-scoring duet, and the season isn’t half over yet.
“It’s cool to play with a guy who has been through a lot,” enthused Barzal. “He’s a nice, humble guy who’s taken me under his wing.”
Not surprisingly, Eberle eternally will be overshadowed by the likes of Captain John Tavares, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee — yes even by the darting Barzal — yet Eberle’s real-time value matches virtually any of his up-front teammates.
3. ADAM PELECH
More often than not, Islanders fans talk about Pelech in the future tense. It could be about his usefulness someday as a power play quarterback or merely as one solid defenseman with decent attacking ability. One way or another, this 23-year-old has yet to fulfill his potential. As one fan, Gilad Fortang, put it, “The fact that there’s more to come from him should scare the daylights out of division opponents.”
Stats support that claim. Or, to put it another way, the eye test and the arithmetic tell a similar story; that this is one good defenseman. Nothing more than that now but slightly above average at this point in his career. The sky’s still the limit for Adam based on his improve-ability scale.
G.M. Garth Snow protected him in the Expansion Draft for a reason. Adam is steady at both ends of the ice and quick to compensate for his mistakes. Adam’s 11 assists in 27 games are not too bad, he’s a plus-6 and could do a bit better by firing more shots on goal.
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