Mike Komisarek didn’t want to discuss how he and Ron Wilson wound up on different pages.
He only hopes there is a new and better chapter about to unfold with Randy Carlyle.
Komisarek, who signed for five years at $4.5 million US a season, has rarely enjoyed sustained success since his arrival in 2009-10. It was either through injury or from what Wilson often thought was an aggressive style of play that was too risky to the team. He did make Komisarek an alternate captain, but by the last days of Wilson’s tenure, the defenceman spent 11 of 13 games in the press box, including Wilson’s last game before his firing.
Carlyle, who likes a more rugged lineup but has few resources at hand, put Komisarek back in on Saturday at Montreal at the expense of the more skilled Cody Franson. Perhaps it was the adrenalin of the first game under Carlyle, or being back in the city that once embraced his nasty side, but Komisarek was one of the most effective Leafs in the 3-1 win. He was a plus-one, with a couple of hits, directed traffic and had his third-most ice time since early January, 16 minutes and 35 seconds.
“The coach shows a little bit of belief in you and I think it goes a long way,” Komisarek said Sunday after the team’s first full workout under Carlyle and new defencemen coach Dave Farrish.
“I’ve had some good games, some bad games. I came here this year, thought I had confidence and believed in myself. Certain things happen, you start questioning that, your confidence goes lower, you have some hesitation and tension out there. It leads to one mistake after the next.”
From up to 20 minutes a night of ice before a November injury, Komisarek began getting lost in the shuffle as Franson played his way into a regular spot and rookie Jake Gardiner was given more of a profile than expected.
Toronto fans are guilty of being too loyal at times, but they do get miffed at highly paid players who are perceived as unproductive. When Komisarek played too tentatively, his miscues seemed to draw more attention than others and the announcing of his home-game scratches drew some cheers. As February unfolded into a 1-9-1 mess, many players were also on edge.
“No one wants to make that (big) mistake,” Komisarek said. “And when someone else makes it, it’s the feeling ‘thank God it wasn’t me’. Which isn’t the right mentality.
“But you will never hear me say anything bad about Ron. He was well-respected in the room and we take a tremendous amount of responsibility when a coach is fired. I look at myself in the mirror and know I have to be better. Whatever the reasons, the excuses and complaints that you have, bottom line, we didn’t get the job done and the coach lost his job because of that.”
Saturday couldn’t have unfolded better for Komisarek, from helping to keep Montreal to 22 shots, to finding the souvenir puck for Carlyle at the buzzer.
“I just went out and played,” summed up Komisarek. “I knew how important each shift was, and how important each game from here on out will be.
“I think guys were generally pushing for each other, vocal on the bench. The atmosphere in the room was great.”
Komisarek, who just turned 30 and played his 500th NHL game, wants to finish his career in the coming years on the positive note it started.
“Now it’s a clean slate,” he said. “I know I can play. I’m just going out there and having more belief in my game. But (Saturday) was just one game.”
Joining Franson in the stands on Saturday was the other alternate captain, Colby Armstrong, a frequent scratch under Wilson. But Carlyle is still gettng a handle on his roster and with Jay Rosehill on re-entry waivers, he could join Armstrong in a bigger Leaf lineup for games this week against abrasive clubs such as Boston and Philadelphia.