Leo Komarov was Derick Brassard’s opponent the previous six seasons. Brassard prefers to have the feisty Estonian as his teammate.
“As a player, his reputation is nobody likes to play against him,” Brassard said after the Islanders practiced in East Meadow on Sunday. “He can get under your skin. He’s a really good checker. He’s got experience and he’s good on the penalty kill and special teams. I don’t know what’s going to happen this week, but we’re looking forward to having him back.”
Komarov has missed nine games because of a combination of neck soreness and an illness, but Sunday marked his second straight practice with the Islanders. They next play on Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs and former captain John Tavares at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum to conclude a season-high four-game homestand.
The Islanders (12-3-1) extended their point streak to 11-0-1 with a 2-1 win over the Panthers on Saturday afternoon to cap three straight games at Barclays Center. But center Casey Cizikas did not play in the third period after taking a shot off his left knee in the first period.
Cizikas and linemate Cal Clutterbuck were given maintenance days off from Sunday’s practice, though coach Barry Trotz said he expects both on the ice on Tuesday for the Islanders’ next practice. Still, there’s some doubt as to whether Cizikas will be available against the Maple Leafs, and that makes Komarov’s potential availability even more important.
Komarov, a natural right wing, filled in as a center when Cizikas missed five games earlier this season.
“We’re just going to see where we are on Tuesday, and it may have to be playing center,” Trotz said. “Leo is capable of playing center. That’s not natural for him, I don’t think that’s the strength of his game. But that’s the strength of Leo. He’s a good enough player, he can jump in there and do that. Leo brings a little bit of an intangible. He pulls you into the fight. He gets people off their game and he’s a good penalty-killer.”
Komarov, 32, has three assists in seven games this season, the second in a four-year, $12 million deal after he spent his first five NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs.
“It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing,” Komarov said when asked if the chance to face his former team provides additional motivation to return to the lineup. “It would be nice, yeah, but we’ll see how it goes. I don’t really need to rush it here, either.”
The Islanders have navigated their 12-game point streak despite the loss of some key forwards. Top-line right wing Jordan Eberle returned on Saturday after missing 10 games, but Matt Martin and Tom Kuhnhackl remain on injured reserve with lower-body injuries. Not having Cizikas would further deplete the Islanders’ bottom six.
“For me, it’s the same. It doesn’t really matter if I can be an extra forward, if I’m going to be on the fourth line or third line,” Komarov said. “I’m just trying to help the team win games.”