The New York Islanders scored a pair of "character" wins over Washington and Philadelphia this week, so it was fitting that one of the Isles bigger characters played a role.
Leo Komarov, affectionately called "Uncle Leo," a title that he's had for the majority of his career, recorded three points (2G, 1A) in those two games, including the game-winner in Washington DC. Komarov played 19:24 TOI - his most in a season-and-a-half as an Islander - vs. the Caps and followed it up with a two-point night against the Flyers. Komarov now has six points (3G, 3A) in his last 11 games.
"It's always nice to score," Komarov said. "Our job, or my job in particular is just not to get scored on and whatever comes from that is a bonus."
Video: PHI@NYI: Martin converts on odd-man rush with Komarov
The first half of the season was a little nomadic for Komarov, who spent time at center and wing, while also moving up, down, in and out of the lineup. That all changed with a wrist laceration to Cal Clutterbuck on Dec. 19, an injury that's kept him out of the lineup ever since. (Clutterbuck is currently skating on his own, but there's no official timetable for his return.)
That left a vacant spot on the team's effective identity line alongside Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas, a unit known for its checking, physicality and energetic play. Komarov, one of the NHL's most prolific hitters, was the natural choice to step in for Clutterbuck.
"He's a defensive-minded player, that's why he's fit in so well with our line and what we're trying to do," Martin said. "Trotz often relies on us to play against other teams' top lines and be effective in that way. He's getting more comfortable."
Video: NYI@WSH: Komarov goes five-hole for wrist shot goal
Clutterbuck may be the team's best agitator, but Komarov is certainty has some of those qualities as well. As for the physicality, Komarov's rub-out of Evgeny Kuznetsov was the hit that sidelined the Capitals forward for the latter portion of the game.
"He's sort of settled into that line and sort of the identity of that line and they've been really good lately," Trotz said. "Leo's gotten a lot more confident understanding they play his game. They get it in and cycle and look for plays, but he's feeling it. I think he enjoys playing with Marty and Casey and they've been good together."
Priority number one for that line has been playing responsible, defensive hockey, but Komarov and Martin have made offensive plays when the opportunities have presented themselves. They hooked up on a give-and-go on Tuesday night, with Komarov threading a pass through Scott Laughton to make it 2-0. The assist was Komarov's 100th in his NHL career. The duo also hooked up for one of the Islanders' first-half highlights, as Komarov whistled a backhander across the zone while falling down, feeding Martin for a backdoor play in Minnesota.
"He's always had that touch," said Martin, who played two years with Komarov in Toronto. "He was an all-star in this league at one point in time. He'll tell you too," Martin added with a grin.
Cizikas' leg injury - a laceration that will keep him out for three-to-four weeks - breaks up a bit of the feng shui of the trio, but Komarov will look to carry his momentum into a crucial stretch. If anything, Trotz will need a little more from one of his vets to help carry the load.
"During the season you need those veteran guys, guys like Leo that don't get a lot of fanfare around the league," Trotz said. "You look at their sexy stats, they're not really that sexy, but they help you win games."