The game of hockey is hard enough to play, but the Fort Wayne Komets might as well be trying with their skates untied, too.
Penalty box attendant Bud Wheeler's right arm has built up enough lately from continually opening the sin bin door he could challenge Popeye to an arm-wrestling contest, and Popeye would back off and say, ``No thanks, Bud, I don't want to mess with you.''
The problem is the Komets have been trying to mess with everybody lately, and all they've been doing is messing things up. They gave up three power-play goals and two short-handed goals on Saturday night during a 5-0 loss to Evansville that extended their losing streak to three games. So many players are making the skate of shame back to the bench after power-play goals against that they are lucky it's a short trip.
``Every time you are sitting in the penalty box and a goal goes in and you have to skate to the bench, you should know that you just cost the team,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``If it's a good penalty that's fine, bringing a guy down on a breakaway or something, but we're taking slashing calls in the neutral zone... We're taking penalties in places where there is no danger, just taking penalties for the sake of taking penalties.''
Because the Komets have so many injuries right now, and so many players are playing hurt, they must try to win games 2-1, but no team can win that way giving up so many power-play chances per game. It's like trying to play defense without sticks. The Komets have allowed eight power-play goals on their last 22 chances against over the last four games, while at the same time they have been held scoreless in their last 18 power-play chances.
``We can't continue to have this parade to the penalty box,'' Sims said. ``This is just totally undisciplined by Kaleigh (Schrock) and all the other people who took penalties tonight and last night. We can't continue to play eight, nine, 10- power plays against every night and expect to win hockey games. It kills your best players who are going out all the time to kill penalties. Halfway through the game, they're dying.''
Even worse, Sims can't argue the penalties that are being called.
``I think the guys realize they can't influence the refs in any way, and I've got no problem with the refs are calling the games,'' he said. ``We deserve what we're getting.''
No, the problem is with the way the Komets are playing the games. No one looks comfortable on the ice, and they always seem to be on the defensive. That tentative play is killing their forecheck so the Komets let Evansville and Toledo dictate the pace of play this weekend. They aren't getting the bounces, but they aren't forcing any, either, as there was virtually no hitting during Saturday's game against the Komets' supposed arch-rival.
Despite being 4-1-1 on the road, the Komets are 3-4 at home and have been out-shot at Memorial Coliseum in four of their last five games where they can't get out of the way of the puck or each other. Because of the injuries and Daniel Maggio's one-game suspension for Friday's cross-checking major, the Komets were playing short-handed with 15 skaters on Saturday night, but Evansville was playing with only 14, including four regular defensemen.
The real problem might not be the players who are missing, but some of the healthy players who aren't doing anything, either. Whenever a player has a chance to get called up, Sims always tells them to do something, anything to get noticed. Right now, some of his own players are flat out disappearing during games.
Some little things could help, but the Fort Wayne power play is moving the puck way too slowly and no one is moving much inside the zone to create distractions. There were no rebounds, no deflections and no scoring chances. They are easy to defend because some players are reluctant to shoot, and others hold onto the puck too long. They are all thinking about not making mistakes instead of reacting to what the defense is presenting.
It's obvious some of the Komets are getting so frustrated they just want to blow up and belt someone, but they know that would just lead to more trips to the penalty box.
And it's usually already full.