What the mild-mannered Leo Komarov didn’t say to reporters following the New York Islanders 4-0 win over the New York Rangers, he said loud and clear through his actions on the ice after scoring his first goal of the season.
After the veteran forward buried a one-timer off a pass from Jordan Eberle, Komarov skated to the corner and threw the proverbial monkey off his back before embracing his teammates. It was a clear sign of joy and relief from Komarov that he finally found the back of the net in the Islanders’ 50th game of the season.
On a night when Leo Komarov scored his first regular-season goal since Feb. 21, 2020, and he was named the game’s third star, Komarov was more elated about the win than his own play.
What a shot from Leo Komarov for the opening goal!
— Islanders Videos (@SNY_Islanders) April 29, 2021
“It feels good to score,” Komarov said. “I’m just trying to work hard and help the team to win. We got a big win and I’m happy for that.”
The effort sure brought a smile to the face of Islanders head coach Barry Trotz, who has often opted to put Komarov into the lineup on many occasions and onto the top line with Eberle and Mathew Barzal to the displeasure of some fans. That was the case on Thursday night when warmups revealed that Komarov would be back alongside the two Islanders stars.
Komarov has never been a flashy player with the Islanders and his lack of offensive production often raises the question as to why Trotz has shown so much faith in the 34-year-old to play alongside two of the team’s top offensive weapons. And Komarov has often taken heat from those in the analytics community.
For Trotz, however, Leo Komarov’s impact on the roster has always gone beyond the stat sheet and has shown in ways that don’t always get noticed by the fans or media.
“You have to be part of the group in the dressing room to understand how certain individuals have an effect to pull people into the fight,” Trotz said. “Even if they aren’t necessarily easy on the eyes or have those stats, they just have a way of having an effect on the game and pulling other guys with them into the battle. Guys like Leo, when you’re in the trenches he’s a guy you’d say ‘I’m glad I’m with you cause I know when it matters that you’re going to be there.'”
Trotz added: “There’s an intangible in the game that you can’t put a number on and Leo is one of those guys.”
Prior to Thursday’s win over the New York Rangers, the Islanders had dropped three straight games to the Washington Capitals in a potential playoff preview. The Islanders’ struggles extended beyond that having entered the three-game set 4-3-0 since they acquired Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac before the trade deadline.
The Islanders had also struggled to put up goals, being outscored 24-18 in the 10 games prior to Thursday’s win.
Part of what helped the Islanders through that rough time, according to Trotz, had been the veteran leadership of Komarov.
“I’m just trying to work hard and help the team to win. We got a big win and I’m happy for that.”
Komarov ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/lQAaiQBRGx
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 30, 2021
“He’s Uncle Leo. He’s fun to have in the dressing room,” Trotz said. “When it matters for the games he’s the guy that has an effect on the game. He’s one of those veteran guys that is underappreciated because he’s not always pretty to the eye. But as a teammate and as a coach you value that. In today’s day and age, it’s harder and harder to find those guys throughout the league.”
While Komarov’s place in the lineup has been the fodder for fans, podcasters and the internet, Leo Komarov has not paid much attention to the noise. His only focus has been on helping the Islanders win games, regardless of how pretty his performance on the ice looks.
As for the support he’s gotten from Trotz and the coaching staff, that has meant a lot.
“It feels good. I’ve been talking to Barry, to Lou (Lamoriello),” Komarov said. “I know what’s going on here. They’re working hard. The closer we get to the playoffs the better feels. Getting more excited about the game and I’ve been pretty good lately.”