When the critics look back on the Islanders’ game one OT win over the Penguins, they will of course look back on the sensational performance from Kyle Palmieri, J.G. Pageau and the excellent goaltending from rookie Ilya Sorokin. But there was another player who shined in a different light, Leo Komarov.
Komarov was a physical mammoth all afternoon. The veteran winger, who was saddled next to Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle on the first line, threw a whopping 14 hits in the contest. Out of the team’s 72 in the game (they were hitting everything that moved), that was the most thrown by any Islander in the lineup. According to Cory Wright of newyorkislanders.com, Komarov’s number of checks was the most by a player in the league all season.
“I thought he was excellent yesterday, head coach Barry Trotz said yesterday. He was engaged. 14 hits? That’s a lot. He’s invested. When the games matter most, he’s extremely invested. I thought he was the strongest player on their line yesterday.”
That last bit of Trotz’s praise may draw Isles’ fans ire, not only because Komarov’s linemates are two of the main offensive drivers the team possesses, but also because many have long seen him become an enigma since he signed with the organization prior to the 2018-19 season. But the fact of the matter is: even with a portion of the fans that can’t stand him, there’s another portion that understands his role. And no more was he in his element than what he did on Sunday, both at even strength and shorthanded. Go back and watch the Islanders on the penalty kill, and Uncle Leo set up some prime scoring chances.
Komarov will never be the prettiest player — he had one goals in 33 games this year — but he remains one of the most effective players in the lineup. He does the dirty work, a very underappreciated aspect lost in a game that has transitioned to more speed and skill. That nagging, in-your-face of style he plays with is what the Islanders can use to help wear down a fast, skilled Penguins squad.
Pittsburgh showed in their previous series against the Islanders back in 2019 they didn’t like being hit. The Isles pounded them into submission and swept them in four games. Komarov was an underrated force in that series and threw his weight around — 16 hits in four games — just like he did in game one. In that series, Komarov also had a goal and assist.
The point is the Islanders just need Komarov to play how he knows how. It’s one of the key components that has made the team successful in both the regular and the postseason. I had written last week, he was one player they would need to step up if the Islanders are going to win.
This series is far from over, but Komarov was great for the Isles in the opener. Now he just needs to keep it going for however long the series goes for.
Another storyline that might have been forgotten as the Isles head into tonight’s game two, their game one victory was the first they had gotten at PPG Paints Arena all season long. Out of the eight times they matched up against the Penguins, the Islanders were 0-4-0 on the road and were outscored 15-7.
Great to see captain Anders Lee get the nod as the Islanders’ representative for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy this morning. Lee, who has become a tremendous leader, has been a wonderful person for the franchise in the community all over Long Island.
“Anders is very special. there are athletes that have a presence. See he was named captain it has grown. you see the growth. he’s the last person that thinks about himself. he loves helping people,” said Barry Trotz.