The Islanders’ top line has been a hot topic of conversation since captain Anders Lee, in March, was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Suddenly, usual bottom-six winger Leo Komarov was flanking star center Mathew Barzal, with Jordan Eberle on the other side. It was an abnormal combination in the regular season, but it has become even more of a glaring mismatch in the postseason, which has been made clear by that line’s lack of production.
Eberle and Barzal have combined for just three goals through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and Barzal’s first goal of the postseason came Thursday night in Game 3 of the second-round series against the Bruins.
It’s hard to ignore that Barzal’s goal in the third period of the 2-1 overtime loss came with an assist from Kyle Palmieri, who was on for a shift in place of Komarov. Head coach Barry Trotz said that combination was “happenstance” because of the shift rotation, with Komarov on the bench after a penalty kill.
“It’s something to consider a little bit because of the fact that just the way rotation-wise when Leo is killing penalties, Palms doesn’t kill penalties, so a lot of times after power plays or penalty kills, you come out and you need a winger for Barzy,” Trotz said of rearranging the first line Saturday ahead of Game 4 at Nassau Coliseum. “Sometimes it works out that we go with Palms there. Sometimes we go out with — if [Brock Nelson] and [Josh Bailey] usually kill some penalties, if they’re out there toward the end of a kill then [Anthony Beauvillier] will go. And then you can get Leo back with Barzy, but yeah we’ve considered it a few times.”
There’s no question Komarov brings intangibles to the lineup that are necessary for the Islanders to play their hard-nosed, grinding style of play. However, Barzal hasn’t gotten the support he needs from his linemates to create plays the way that he’s known to. Eberle has consistently been bodied off the puck by the Bruins and Komarov seems to be out of his element next to those two high-skill players.
Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo was ruled out ahead of Game 4 after taking a hard hit from Cal Clutterbuck in the third period of Game 3. Asked about the play Saturday morning, Clutterbuck expressed remorse.
“Obviously you feel bad, you don’t want to see anybody hurt,” he said. “I’m not going out there and trying to hurt people. That’s not the goal. The goal is to be effective, and try and create turnovers. So when that happens, obviously it’s unfortunate. It gives you a bad feeling in your stomach definitely and I don’t like to see that at all. So I hope he’s OK.”
Trotz said there is a possibility Oliver Wahlstrom, who missed his fifth straight game Saturday with a lower-body injury, could play at some point this series.
“We miss his shot, no question,” Trotz said of the rookie sharpshooter. “We miss his size. Wally is one of those guys that gets pucks out and he wins battles, just as Anders Lee has too. Can you imagine Anders Lee in this series and Wahlstrom in this series? That would be beneficial, but they’re not so we just play with who we have and we like who we have so they’ll get the job done.”