CHICAGO – Cal Clutterbuck did not garner All-Star consideration, which is no surprise since players nominally considered fourth-line grinders and agitators rarely do.
But there’s certainly more to the right wing’s game than checking ability – evidenced by his recent spate of offensive production and coach Barry Trotz’s conviction to keep him on the second power-play unit. Within the Islanders’ near-egalitarian, four-line system, Clutterbuck’s contributions to the team’s success have been vitally important.
The Islanders face the Blackhawks on Tuesday night at United Center, their final game before their combined All-Star break and bye week. The Metropolitan Division leaders, who entered Tuesday off back-to-back shutouts having won 15 of 18 and looking to match their season-high six-game win streak, do not reconvene for practice until Jan. 31 and next play against the NHL-leading Lightning on Feb. 1 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
Second-year center Mathew Barzal, 21, is the Islanders’ lone All-Star for Friday night’s skills competition and Saturday night’s three-on-three showcase in San Jose.
Clutterbuck, 31, in his 11th NHL season, entered Tuesday with three goals in two games, including his sixth career two-goal effort in Sunday afternoon’s 3-0 win over the Ducks at the Coliseum. Overall, he had four goals in his previous five games and six for the season.
It’s been a turn-back-the-clock season for Clutterbuck and center Casey Cizikas as they’ve been reunited with Matt Martin, who spent the previous two seasons with the Maple Leafs. The trio was considered the best fourth line in the league during Martin’s first tenure with the Islanders.
“It’s a good role,” Clutterbuck said of his place within the team’s structure. “I think [the coaching staff] recognizes I can be very useful with those two guys. It’s kind of a special thing. It’s just something that works and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my linemates, too. They keep getting better. Look at Casey’s year. He’s driving the play. He really looks energized and he’s making great plays.”
Clutterbuck’s season, at least offensively, started slowly as his goal-less streak spanning two seasons grew to 51 games before he notched his first goal in a 5-2 win over the Canucks on Nov. 13 at Barclays Center. He got his second goal in the next game before going another 23 games until his recent goal eruption.
“He’s a hard player,” Trotz said. “He’s responsible and he has scoring ability. He has an ability to get players off their game, he’s a little bit of an agitator and that’s a skill. Not everybody can do that.
“I think we see it with the shot,” Trotz added when asked whether he thought there was more offense in Clutterbuck’s game. “Sometimes, when you put a guy in an offensive role, it doesn’t always happen right away. I think there’s more growth to him.”
Trotz has kept Clutterbuck on the power play – he entered Tuesday with two power-play goals – because of his ability to snap off a quick wrist shot and retrieve pucks near the crease and to have another righthanded shot on the ice.
“I watch him in practice and he’s got a lot of snipe,” Trotz said. “It just hasn’t [always] translated into the game.”
Meanwhile, Clutterbuck credits the coaching staff for helping his line improve its offensive capabilities.
“We’ve always had a foundation of working hard and I think, now, we’ve got some good instruction,” Clutterbuck said. “We’ve got some assistant coaches working with us on spacing in the offensive zone and what plays are available. The last three weeks we’ve been able to start clicking on that. We want to expand on that.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Anders Lee-Brock Nelson-Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier-Mathew Barzal-Josh Bailey
Michael Dal Colle-Valtteri Filppula-Leo Komarov
Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy-Johnny Boychuk
Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield
Robin Lehner (15-7-3, 2.02 goals-against average, .930 save percentage)
Drake Caggiula-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat-Dylan Strome-Dominik Kahun
Brandon Saad-David Kampf-Marcus Kruger
Chris Kunitz-Artem Anisimov-John Hayden
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Henri Jokiharju-Connor Murphy
Slater Koekkoek-Erik Gustafsson
Cam Ward (7-8-4, 3.99, .884)