Islanders’ Matt Martin may stay on top line while Barzal’s out

The Islanders have no obvious option for their first line in the wake of Mathew Barzal’s injury, but it might just end up being Matt Martin on Wednesday against the Jets.

After the Islanders started their 4-2 win over the Penguins on Monday night with Simon Holmstrom on Bo Horvat’s right in place of Barzal, they finished the game with Martin there, and afterwards they sounded happy with how it went.

“I thought he was very good,” coach Lane Lambert said. “Marty’s a guy, a very smart player. You can trust him in all different situations. More often than not, he makes the intelligent and good play, so he played his way up there. And I thought he did a great job.”

The first line of Horvat, Anders Lee and Martin created the game-winning goal. Horvat turned Tristan Jarry over and Martin found Lee at the backdoor for the goal. It was Martin’s 10th assist of the season, the first time he has reached double-digit assists in 14 NHL seasons. His 17 points are just two off his career high, in 2015-16 in his first stint on Long Island.

Matt Martin passes the puck up the corner during a recent Islanders' game against the Bruins.
Matt Martin passes the puck up the corner during a recent Islanders’ game against the Bruins.

The Islanders might end up being happy if Martin can just play his forecheck-heavy game and avoid making mistakes, letting Lee and Horvat do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

Holmstrom, who has just four points this season, was demoted after a failure to backcheck helped lead to Jake Guentzel’s opening goal. That was one of a number of mistakes, including failing to corral a puck at the blue line that led to an icing call against the Islanders.

Martin is not likely to replicate Barzal’s offensive punch (no one on the roster is), but he does play a sound, mistake-free game on most nights.

“I think I just try to get in on the forecheck and try to create turnovers,” Martin said. “Horvy’s looking to make plays. Both those guys can put the puck in the net, so not a whole lot of changes. Obviously want them to get the puck as much as possible. It was fun playing with them, they’re two big bodies.”

“He was unbelievable tonight,” Horvat said of Martin. “A lot of things he does go unnoticed. Little things in the defensive zone, getting pucks out and then he makes great plays like he did on Anders’ goal that maybe go unnoticed.”

The Islanders beat Winnipeg both times they played the Jets last season. They did not play the Jets during the pandemic, so the last time they lost to Winnipeg was Dec. 4, 2018, at Barclays Center.

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