The New York Islanders dropped a hotly-contested game to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday evening by a final score of 3-2. The Capitals, who entered the game already missing key players due to league COVID protocols, were even more shorthanded by the time they beat the Islanders with only 27 seconds left in regulation.
Here are three takeaways from the let-down defeat in the nation’s capital.
1. Leo Komarov’s late-game blunders
The blame for this loss is going to rest entirely on the shoulders of Leo Komarov and Barry Trotz, who decided to play Leo in the final minute of the third period to disastrous result again. It may or may not be fair that they’ll shoulder the burden alone, but they will no less.
Komarov was in trademark form on the night. With just over nine minutes remaining in regulation, he boarded Washington’s Lars Eller, sending Eller crumpling to the ice, and the Islanders to a five-minute penalty kill in a tie game.
That was bad enough. But the Islanders penalty kill came up huge, killing off the entire Washington man advantage, and upon release, Leo skated to the visitor’s bench, where he should’ve stayed for the remainder of the night.
You know the rest of the story. Leo saw two more shifts following the penalty, with the final one being where he got defensive coverages mixed up on the back-check, and in the process lost the Islanders the game on Justin Schultz’s late game-winner.
What’s better is that Komarov’s ability on the penalty-kill is likely to be what got him penciled into the lineup in the first place. To be unavailable to perform the role you were tasked with because you caused the penalty is just some next-level stuff.
Even worse, what was Barry Trotz doing putting him back out on the ice, to begin with?
There is absolutely no excuse for Komarov to see the ice in the final four minutes of game action after the penalty he took. Not only was the infraction uncalled for, but it was totally unnecessary, as the hit took place in the offensive zone.
We’ve seen Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson benched by Trotz for taking bad penalties in the past, and maybe they needed to be benched. But Leo Komarov needed to be benched too, and he wasn’t. Instead, he was rewarded with two more shifts in the game’s dying minutes.
Kieffer Bellows sat on the bench for the final 15:18 after probably his most-memorable shift of the night. It’s understandable that Trotz doesn’t want to ice his young players in the game’s most crucial moments. But if you have a veteran who routinely takes horrible penalties in those important moments, and then doesn’t even lock-in on his defensive assignment, then what difference does it make?
I’ll begrudgingly admit the loss wasn’t all Leo’s fault, nor was it Trotz’s. But the decision to deploy Leo again still has me scratching my head, and it probably will for the foreseeable future.