The kind of games the Fort Wayne Komets usually to find ways to win, they are now finding ways to lose.
For the night in a row, the Komets fought back to tie 2-2 in the third period and for the second game in a row their defense broke down and cost them the game. This time the Toledo Walleye won 4-2 before 7,526 Memorial Coliseum fans who are growing very impatient with their team's 4-5-0 home record.
After a 7-2-1 start, the Komets have lost five of six games.
``It was a good effort,'' Komets goaltender Charlie Effinger said. ``It wasn't for a lack of effort. It's tough right now. We rattled off four or five wins in a row and now we're losing close games and not getting the bounces. We have to work harder and find ways to get bounces. I know that's kind of a clichéd answer, but it's the truth.''
Over the six-game span, they Komets have scored only 11 goals while they power play has given up 11 goals. They've been out-shot in five of the six games and out-chanced in every game. Opponents have scored first in nine of the last 11 games. Those kind of stats are putting a tremendous amount of pressure on a very young defense and the goaltenders must feel like they have to play perfectly.
Playing their third game in three nights, the Komets got a blow early when defenseman Daniel Maggio got kicked out. After winning a fight with Toledo's Joey Ryan, Maggio was given a game misconduct for removing his elbow pad, leaving his team with only five defensemen. If the pad comes off during the fight, that's OK, but removing it before the right is an automatic ejection.
``Guys are working as hard as they can,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``Third game in three nights and you lose one of our best defensemen right off the bat. Our defensemen were dying. It made it real tough. We're already short six guys and now seven with Maggio out of the game. Guys are working as hard as they can. Can't say anything about the effort. It was unbelievable the effort we put out. It's unfortunate we didn't get rewarded, but we didn't get any bounces.''
Whether they can play harder or not, the Komets can certainly play smarter. Trailing by a goal inside the last three minutes, leading scorer Brandon Marino took a hooking penalty which killed any chance of a last-second rally. The Walleye didn't even need the empty-net goal Andrej Nestrasil scored with three seconds left.
``We have to hold ourselves accountable, but there's moments where we're working our tails off, me included and everyone included, but the puck is going the other way,'' veteran forward Brett Smith said. ``Even when I chip it in deep and go after it and I get there, and for some reason it bounces the wrong way. We have three guys on the puck on the power play and it squirts out to their one guy. I can't put my finger on it, but it's not good enough whatever it is. I have to be better, we all have to be better. I feel like we're working hard, but I don't know what it is.''
The one thing the Komets aren't doing is winning the little battles that can make up big plays. They've stopped hitting nearly as much as they did early in the season, and the defensemen aren't moving opponents out of the crease in front of the goaltenders, particularly on the penalty kill.
``Maybe guys are trying just a little too hard and that's when the puck starts bouncing the wrong way,'' Smith said. ``We're getting some chances, we just have to bear down and score some more. We also have to solve the defensive errors as well because we're giving away goals and that kills us.''
Everyone has a theory, but the only definitive answer is the Komets need to start getting some injured players back. Defenseman Ryan Hegarty hopes to be cleared to play Wednesday in Gwinnett after recovering from a broken hand.
``We need to get healthy,'' Sims said. ``This has nothing to do with anything else. We're short players right now, and when we get a guy kicked out, it hurts even more.''