Leo Komarov and top-line winger aren’t uttered in the same sentence too often, but it’s becoming the norm around Long Island as of late.
The veteran forward skated with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle on Saturday night when the New York Islanders defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-1, and he was back there again on Monday when they face Philadelphia for the third time in the last five days. Komarov played 14:19 on Saturday and finished the game a plus-2.
“I think with Leo he has the experience,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s played with checking lines. He’s been a checker. He’s played with more offensive lines and has the defensive consciousness. I thought (his line) didn’t have much time in their own end. Leo was the guy down low winning all those battles. He’s doing a lot of that. … Leo’s just a real strong man for his size and those plays got killed early, especially in the defensive zone for use. Leo cleaned a lot of that up.”
Komarov’s presence in the Islanders lineup has caught the ire of some fans during the course of the season. That became even more pronounced when Komarov — or Uncle Leo as he has affectionately become known as — took an ill-timed penalty against the Washington Capitals in the midst of a five-game skid for the Islanders.
What’s kept Komarov in the Islanders lineup at times has been the intangibles that he brings to the ice. His play away from the puck and the leadership qualities he has, Trotz has often pointed to.
“He’s played center and he’s played wing,” Trotz said. “I think his knowledge of the position and his knowledge playing both positions helps Barzy and Ebs a little bit.”
While Trotz wouldn’t put Komarov into the Islanders lineup simply to showcase him as a potential trade chip for other teams, the timing for the lineup decision is certainly beneficial for New York, which is actively seeking to fill the hole left by Ander Lee’s season-ending injury. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has already stated that the team is looking to acquire a scoring winger.
Komarov wouldn’t be the main piece of any such trade like that, but the Islanders will likely look to include him in a deal to free up more space under the salary cap. Komarov is in the third year of a four-year deal that carries a $3 million cap hit, according to PuckPedia.
Komarov has been one of several names that have appeared in trade rumors since the season started and the Islanders worked to create more cap space. So the success of Komarov during his stint on the top line not only benefits the Islanders on the ice, but could have a much broader impact when it comes time for Lamoriello to work some trade magic.
Trotz told reporters on Monday that he would play virtually the same lineup as he did on Saturday, and when the puck dropped Komarov found himself back on that top line with Barzal and Eberle. For Komarov, the key to any success came down to one very simple game plan.
“I know what my job is, right, just try to get the puck to Barzy and Ebs, and just try to stay out of the way,” Komarov said.