Rare is the game where the night’s first star doesn’t record a single goal or an assist. For a player held off the score sheet to be the games first star, he must turn in a dominating performance, a performance that leaves no doubt as to who the best player was on the ice that particular night.
Thursday night in Boston was such a night for Mike Komisarek.
Such was the extent of Komisarek’s performance that for once TSN analyst Pierre McGuire’s “Monster Performer” moniker seemed to be inadequate.
Few teams in the NHL are scrutinized as much as the Montreal Canadiens. Every day whether through print or on radio every aspect of the team and the players is dissected by both the press and the fans. Not a day goes by without mention of players such as Carey Price, Alex Kovalev, and Saku Koivu.
For the most part Mike Komisarek flies under the radar. He is not the type to actively seek out the press, he is not by nature a player who seeks the spotlight, and he’s not a flashy player, who dazzles with his offensive skill.
But now, like the offensive stars of the game, Mike Komisarek is beginning to show up on the highlight reels of the nightly sports highlight shows. And while his overtime winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this year received airplay it is the physical component of his game that has established Mike Komisarek.
It has only been in recent months that the rest of the NHL has come to learn what fans of the Canadiens have known for some time; Mike Komisarek has steadily established himself as one of the league’s most physically dominating players. And if they didn’t know it before Thursday night they most certainly know now.
Playing a game broadcast coast to coast on TSN shines a spotlight on all the players on the screen. Second only to Hockey Night in Canada in terms of prestige and exposure, games broadcast on TSN are watched by the biggest audiences, and not just by fans, but by those NHL’ers not playing that night.
For those watching on Thursday night they were witness to Mike Komisarek’s coming out party. The rest of us who have watched him play his entire career have seen his evolution through the years from fresh faced rookie to one of the league’s preeminent shutdown defensemen. But there was also a message sent to the rest of the league. For years, the Habs have been seen as a pushover by some of the league’s more physical teams. And while the Habs aren’t going to remind anybody of the Broad Street Bullies, they showed on Thursday night that they’re not going to be intimidated physically by anybody. And there on the tube leading the brigade was Mike Komisarek.
But for me, there was one image about the game that stands out. In the game’s first two periods Komisarek had been abused by both the Bruins and the puck, thanks to a slapshot off the ankle, and an elbow to the jaw. Amidst all this he engaged in a spirited one on one battle with Bruins rookie Milan Lucic. It almost seemed as if the two of them were playing a game with each other within the game. But there at the end of the second period there stood Komisarek, skating off the ice, defiant, unbowed, and ready for more.
Leading the league in hits and shots blocked only tells part of the story about Komisarek. Perhaps his most impressive statistic is his 165 consecutive games played, making him the leader in consecutive games played for the Canadiens. Needless to say this is an extraordinary accomplishment for a player who plays such a physical game and is subject to as much punishment night in and night out.
But Komisarek’s true value lies beyond statistics and can only be seen by those who go beyond the score sheets and intently study the game. These skills have been honed over time, and the often repeated adage is true about Komisarek; he gets better with every game he plays. What were once weaknesses have been transformed into virtues.
In his early days with the team as a rookie, Komisarek like the majority of younger players was often guilty of over exuberance, resulting in him trying to do too much. As he’s matured into his role with the team, Komisarek now lets the game come to him.
It all starts with Komisarek’s exceptionally strong positional play. His ability to play the angles results in the hits coming to him as opposed to him recklessly charging at players on the ice. In his early days this headhunting resulted in him quite often being caught out of position.
And while Komisarek leads the league in hits, it is the impact of these body checks that leave the most lasting impact. What often gets overlooked when watching Komisarek crushing an opponent is the effect that it has on the other players, on both teams. In addition to sending a message to the opposing team, it also gives his teammates a jolt of electricity.
Paired with Andrei Markov, Komisarek is part of the Canadiens most important defensive pairing. Matched up against the other team’s best forward lines and players, Komisarek’s has quickly become one of the league’s best shut down rearguards. And even though he and Markov log the most minutes against the other teams best, Komisarek is still a plus 5.
Markov and Komisarek give the Canadiens their best defensive pairing since the days of Chris Chelios and Larry Robinson. And even though they play two different styles, they mesh together perfectly and work together, not as individuals. This can be attributed to the fact that not only do they pair up on the ice, they also pair up on the road as roommates as well as sitting side by side as locker room. Playing close to half the game, both Markov and Komisarek are a tower of strength for the Canadiens every time they take the ice.
On January 19th, Mike Komisarek celebrates his 26th birthday. At the end of next year, Komisarek becomes an unrestricted free agent when his Canadiens contract runs out. Surely, one of (Canadiens general manager) Bob Gainey’s most pressing priorities must be to sign Komisarek long term. While Komisarek will never be an offensive star, it is what he brings to the table that makes him so prized to the Canadiens.
His ability to shutdown the other teams offensive stars as well as his ever increasing imposing presence has resulted in Mike Komisarek becoming the most durable and one of the most valuable players that wears the “bleu blanc et rouge.”