Islanders’ thriving third line sign of Barry Trotz’s mastery

Injuries and series trends have prompted head coach Barry Trotz to switch around his lineup throughout this postseason, but the Islanders have maintained their chemistry no matter who is on the ice.

Take the third line of Ross Johnston, J-G Pageau and Leo Komarov in Monday night’s series opening win over the Philadelphia Flyers for example. Komarov was fresh off of playing with the fourth line in the series-clinching win over the Capitals in Game 5 because Cal Clutterbuck was unavailable due to an undisclosed injury. But with Clutterbuck recovered for Game 1, Komarov was bumped back up to the third.

Johnston made his postseason debut in Game 5 against Washington, along with Michael Dal Colle, as Derick Brassard was a healthy scratch. Brassard was scratched again Monday night with Johnston remaining in, but Dal Colle was removed.

The jumbled third line ended up providing the Islanders with a much-needed insurance tally less than three minutes into the third period on the way to a 4-0 win. Strong play in the corner from Komarov and Johnston pushed the puck out to Pageau in front of the Flyers’ net for the 2-0 score.

“We got a good team, a lot of guys who want to play,” Komarov said on a Zoom call Tuesday. “For me personally, I just keep it simple and try to forecheck and give the puck to my linemates. Yesterday I played with Ross and Pager and we had a pretty good game.”

J-G Pageau and Leo Komarov celebrate in Game 1.The Canadian Press via AP

Komarov fluctuated throughout the bottom six for much of the 2019-20 regular season, even seeing some brief time on the second line back in March. There are a handful of players who Trotz can seemingly plug in anywhere and bank on the line still finding a groove no matter how much, or how little, time they’ve played alongside one another.

That fact was evident in the third line’s contributions Monday, as they combined for a goal and an assist with four blocked shots and 15 hits.

“I just thought they were effective,” Trotz said of the third line. “They were able to get some loose pucks, they were able to contribute, I thought they were physical, I thought they just managed the puck really well. They gave us a little boost of energy when we needed it so that’s what you’re looking for.

“Pager on the faceoffs and getting a goal. Ross on the physicality and same with Leo and the penalty kill as well. I thought they were real solid.”

Trotz said the team’s undeniable chemistry comes from its core belief that “everybody is important in our group.” He’s continued to foster a healthy balance of inner-lineup competition and a common belief that everybody is contributing to the team’s success in some way.

“Even if you’re not in the lineup, you’re an important piece and you can go in at any time and you have to be prepared and accept the role that you go in,” he said. “If you go in, you’re part of the solution. That’s what I think the mentality of everybody that’s here, even the guys that aren’t playing, they may be an important piece as we go along.

“It gives me the luxury and it gives backside pressure to your teammates that they’ve got to perform as well. We use the word culture, but to me it’s the way the professionalism, it’s those things that we have a lot people who exude that and therefore they’re prepared all the time.”