Islanders putting lines in blender, return Mathew Barzal to center after Casey Cizikas injury

Barzal Horvat Islanders
(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Having lost four of their last five and facing the absence of their fourth-line center, Casey Cizikas, Islanders head coach Lane Lambert is throwing the proverbial spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. 

“I don’t think we’ve played very well lately,” Lambert said. “We could have just moved one person… but we moved a bunch of people. We’ve got to be better.”

At their morning skate ahead of Thursday night’s matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Islanders ran significantly tweaked lines, headlined by the separation of center Bo Horvat and right-winger Mathew Barzal — moving the latter back to center on the third line.

“Sometimes a little shakeup can be alright,” Barzal said. “Did I think I was playing center walking in today? I didn’t.”

Cizikas took a shot off the left leg in the first period of the Islanders’ 5-2 loss on Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks before exiting early in the second period. After not skating Thursday morning, the Islanders announced that he would be out on a week-to-week basis with a lower-body injury.

In his absence, New York flexed usual third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau down to the fourth line with Barzal taking his spot. 

“[Cizikas] going down is a big role [to fill] and that line is big for us in terms of shutdown,” Barzal, who played center for the first seven years of his career before the Islanders acquired Horvat, continued. “Pageau can slide into that real nicely and I’d say when it comes to being center, I’m probably the next man up in terms of history.

“I’ve been there most of my career so I don’t think there’s going to be a ton of rust. Maybe in the circle a little bit on the face-offs.”

Noah Dobson Islanders
New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Lambert’s changes also saw the separation of the struggling second line of Brock Nelson, Kyle Palmieri, and Pierre Engvall. The trio had been together since early in Engvall’s tenure in New York after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. 

Once their most valuable line in the home stretch last year to clinch a playoff spot and fast starters this year, the line has found itself in a rut as of late.

“It’s a mixture,” Palmieri said. “As a line, me, Brock, and Pierre had a little downturn as far as production goes… Realistically I think it has a lot to do with losing a centerman and putting guys in a position to succeed.”

Engvall and Nelson are still together on the second line but it’s Hudson Fasching drawing into Palmieri’s spot at right wing. Palmieri has joined Barzal’s third line with Simon Holmstrom on the left. 

“I don’t think it’s really a message,” Palmieri said. “We’re just trying to change some things up. With a center going down and Barzy playing center for most of his career, it’s kind of an easy switch. It’s easy to move guys around and see what works. 

For more on the Islanders, visit AMNY.com