‘It’s about heart and guts’: Islanders’ Barry Trotz on Leo Komarov’s first-line minutes

Leo Komarov Islanders
Islanders forward Leo Komarov
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders improved their depth at the NHL trade deadline, acquiring forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to offer the team more notable, potentially dangerous offensive options for a team that has been without first-line winger and captain Anders Lee since last month and will be for the remainder of the season.

While Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle continue to wait for a bona fide third member of the Islanders’ first line, head coach Barry Trotz has often been turning to Leo Komarov — as he did on Sunday night in Philadelphia during a 1-0 overtime win that saw the veteran put together one of his best games with the club.

Starting the game on the fourth line with Cal Clutterbuck unavailable, Komarov quickly made his way to the first line during a first period that saw the Islanders completely dominated by the Flyers; though the heroics of Ilya Sorokin kept the hosts at bay all night while recording a 30-save shutout. 

He made vital backchecks after harsh turnovers from Barzal, to which Trotz admitted that “I don’t know if that line survives that first period [without him].”

He marauded up and down the lineup to work alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anthony Beauvillier as well. He was a vital penalty killer, drew a hooking penalty from Kevin Hayes, and recorded five hits to be the familiar agitator that the league has come to know over the 34-year-old’s eight-year career. 

An effort like that is precisely why — with players like Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, Michael Dal Colle, and Ross Johnston also vying for playing time — Trotz continues to turn a player like Komarov with zero goals and five assists this season in 26 games despite the bemoaning of a fan base that cringes every time they see his name on the first line; or in the lineup.

“I know Leo isn’t a fantasy hockey favorite, but we’re not playing fantasy hockey,” Trotz said. “We’re playing with real lives bullets in the NHL.

“It’s nothing about analytics. It’s about heart and guts and playing the right way, being committed, and playing in these heavy games.”

That is the modus operandi of the second-place Islanders, after all, going with chemistry and effort over panache and flash.

It’s why Komarov will remain in the mix for Trotz and the Islanders, who prepare for a big-time rivalry matchup with the New York Rangers, who are making a push for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Division, on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum (7 p.m. ET).