Casey Cizikas sparking Islanders’ top line after latest shift: ‘Should have done it before’

The spur-of-the-moment decision last week in Philadelphia to try Casey Cizikas alongside Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal on the top line might end up having a lasting impact on the arc of the Islanders’ season, as here was Patrick Roy’s response Saturday night when asked about the trio.

“It’s been what, two months and some days I’ve been here, 31, 32 games, and I get to know them more and more. I feel like I should have done it before,” Roy said. “That’s my reaction. I should have put him with Bo and Barzy before.”

Kyle MacLean’s emergence as a capable fourth-line center has allowed the Islanders to move Cizikas around the lineup, wherever his energy can be most useful.

Casey Cizikas skates during an Islanders game against the Bruins in December.
Casey Cizikas skates during an Islanders game against the Bruins in December. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

But even with that stipulation, this move was counterintuitive.

Cizikas is no one’s idea of a top-line winger, probably including himself.

This has worked so far, with the trio accounting for 56.82 percent of scoring chances, though below 50 percent of high-danger looks, because Cizikas’ skill set complements that of his linemates.

“They find open ice. The way they carry the play through the neutral zone and the O-zone, it’s incredible,” Cizikas told The Post following Monday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center. “My job’s pretty simple. I just try to push the pace and back those [defensemen] off so they have more room through there. Any loose puck in the O-zone, I’m trying to hound it and get it back in their hands.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s about just keeping my game simple. I know I’m not that kind of player. I know I don’t have that skill level that they do. I just try to keep it simple, work hard and get to the front of the net. Let them do the rest.”

Casey Cizikas celebrates his goal during the Islanders' game against the Lightning in February.
Casey Cizikas celebrates his goal during the Islanders’ game against the Lightning in February. Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Simon Holmstrom moved up to the second line in Monday’s practice, skating with Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri, while Pierre Engvall replaced Holmstrom on the right side of the third line with Anders Lee and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

“I thought since we healthy scratched him, he’s been playing good hockey,” Roy said. “Sometimes you feel you have to try different things. I love the way he was handling the puck, the way he was moving the puck, the plays he made. I thought it would be good to create a bit of a spark on that line with Nelson and Palmieri.”

Semyon Varlamov will start in goal against the Rangers on Tuesday, per Roy.


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