2. The Top-Line Winger Leo Komarov Experiment Should’ve Ended Already
Anders Lee’s injury was always going to be a big hole to fill in the Islanders top-six. I must admit though, I never really fully appreciated how good of a play-driver Lee was. Until now, that is, when the effects of Leo Komarov playing in Lee’s top-line left wing spot alongside Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle have borne themselves out over a several-game span.
The Komarov line one experiment should’ve ended already. The Islanders top line has not looked the same since Lee went down, but it’s gotten worse and worse since Komarov replaced Kieffer Bellows in that spot.
Mat Barzal, an elite play-driver over the course of his career, has spent far too much time hemmed in his own end since the switch to Leo as his linemate. You could argue that Barzal needs to up his game to elevate Leo, as Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and other elite centers do for their linemates. But Barzal hasn’t been able to do that with Komarov, and his numbers have suffered for it.
I’ve seen a few odd takes on Twitter about how Barzal’s performance was already sagging prior to Lee’s injury and Leo’s inclusion on the line. That narrative isn’t backed by any metrics that I’ve seen in checking back through his numbers from games prior to Komarov’s first line promotion, or before Lee’s injury.
Digging back into late February in Natural Stat Trick’s game archives, I didn’t find a single game in which Barzal sported a 5v5 CF% or xGF% lower than 50%. Post-Lee injury, only one game with Bellows as the 1LW saw the Islanders accrue fewer than 50% of 5v5 expected goals with Barzal on the ice, that was March 18, in a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Since Komarov moved up to the 1LW spot, the Islanders have less than 50% of xG with Barzal on-ice at 5v5 in three out of five games.
I looked for any metrics showing a trending decline in Barzal’s 5v5 performance prior to Lee’s absence and post-Leo’s first line debut, and I can’t find any. Maybe the eye test could reveal some? If so, I haven’t noticed them in real-time.
The problem isn’t Barzal hasn’t been good enough. The problem is Barzal hasn’t been good enough to elevate Leo Komarov as a linemate, there’s a big distinction there.