Matt Martin is likely to return to the Islanders’ Identity Line on Tuesday night against the Blackhawks after missing the first two games of the season with injury.
Martin said Monday the ankle injury dates back to last March, when the team played a back-to-back against the Capitals and Rangers.
“I blocked a couple shots in the same spot,” Martin said. “And then I was kinda dealing with that through the playoff run.”
After the season ended, Martin saw a specialist and chose surgery. He said he feels good and might be returning “a little earlier” that the initial time frame suggested.
Martin’s return was telegraphed earlier Monday when the Isles waived Leo Komarov, clearing room on the roster for the left-winger. After the first two games — both losses in which the Islanders gave up six and five goals to the Hurricanes and Panthers, respectively, Martin could bring a needed boost.
“I think what’s always made us successful as a team is we know our roles,” Martin said. “We know what to do, not only as individuals but as lines, and we stick to that.”
Martin’s line, with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, has often embodied such a mentality. The group’s checking, physicality and energy has been key to the team’s rise to contender under coach Barry Trotz.
The Islanders are going into Tuesday’s matchup with the Blackhawks facing questions, having allowed 11 goals in two games while struggling to generate offense on the power play, other than an Oliver Wahlstrom goal on Saturday. For a team that came into the year touted as Stanley Cup title contenders, it’s an early gut check.
“We’d love to be 2-0 right now and we’d love to be playing our best hockey,” Martin said. “Just for whatever reason, we haven’t gotten off to that start. … We’re a veteran team, we’ve dealt with a lot of different types of adversity through different points of the season, as well as the whole COVID thing going on and everything else.
“I think we’re a mature group, we know what’s expected of us. We just need to go out there and execute.”
Added Zdeno Chara: “We know we’ve got more in us than we’ve shown so far.”
The Islanders have been more frustrated with these losses than they might be normally, Martin said. That comes down not to the result, but how they’ve played in losing.
“If we go out there and put our best foot forward, play our best game, you live with the result,” Martin said. “But I think, not just from being in the room the last few games, there’s more disappointment with the losses, just because we haven’t played the way we’re accustomed to and know that we can.”
Semyon Varlamov won’t be back Tuesday, but participated in Monday’s practice and is considered day-to-day, according to Trotz.
The Islanders have gone with Ilya Sorokin in net while Varlamov recovers from an undisclosed injury. Sorokin has allowed 10 goals on 69 shots for an .855 save percentage through two games.
Varlamov, who started 35 games last year in tandem with Sorokin, had a .929 save percentage.