On Friday night the Fort Wayne Komets looked good enough to challenge for a championship, and on Saturday night they looked bad enough to wonder if they'll ever win again.
Inconsistencies are beating the Komets who started 7-2-1 but have gone 7-10-1 since. They hold the eighth playoff spot in the ECHL's Eastern Conference but are facing 15 games in 24 days after Christmas, a stretch which will determine the quality of this season.
Some things we can determine so far:
* The affiliation with Norfolk has worked mostly to the Admirals' favor. Only Josh Brittain has given a strong effort every night, and Garrett Klotz has shown up when he's gotten to play. Gabe Guentzel and Nick Schaus looked great -- in short stints to get their legs back so they could go right back to Norfolk.
The only times when all these players have hustled has been when Norfolk General Manager Bob Ferguson is in the building. Somehow the Komets have to convince the rest to play for the name on the front of the jersey as well as the one on the back.
It's obviously a new concept to some of them, which is probably why they are here.
* The defense needs help. Starting four rookie blueliners means the Komets are asking them to play above what they are capable of. Is Daniel Maggio the defensive guy or the offensive guy? Dan Nycholat has improved, but he's not a top four defenseman yet. Maybe in a normal ECHL year, the youngsters would be fine, but competing against three or four AHL players every night has exposed flaws.
Can the Komets be patient to see if they develop? Do they have any choice?
* The power play is in tatters. The Komets rank last in the ECHL at 12.7 percent, scoring only 13 power-play goals, including only seven in the last 20 games. Somehow they are getting worse.
``I think you look at two rookies on the points, and that tells you about our power play,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``We have one guy who has played the power play in the past, and that's Tyler Butler, and we've got nobody else. We're just trying to get along with what we've got and put the best people out there. It's going to be tough for us all year on the power play.''
Sims said he's not even sure any of the rookies even played the point in college or junior.
``You can try and design things on the board and work on things in practice that we want them to do to get shots to the net in traffic,'' Sims said. ``Most power plays are about shots getting through to the net and traffic. If you can do that you're going to get some tips, rebounds and deflections and some easy goals. If you don't you're working on the perimeter, and it's going to be tough to score.''
There are nights when the Komets don't get any shots on goal from the point so they've tried forwards Chria Auger, Colin Chaulk, Thomas Beauregard and Brandon Marino there. That may be their best option, meaning they'll suffer the ocassional short-handed goal against.
Fort Wayne has also had by far the fewest power-play chances in the league.
* The biggest thing the Komets can change, and maybe the thing that could do them the most good, is on taking penalties. They continue to be undisciplined with fouls in the offensive and neutral zones and sometimes even with something as simple as moving their feet. Over the last 20 games, opponents have had 106 power-play attempts, and the Komets have had 76. Only one time during those 20 games have the Komets had more power-play attempts than their opponents.
Opponents have also scored 14 more power-play goals in those 20 games, and that's been critical.
It seems like once a game, the Komets blow a period by taking too many penalties. They spend eight or 10 minutes exhausting their best players to kill off power plays, and then they are to tired to find offense. That period is usually in the third when they have scored 28 goals and allowed 38 and have been out-shot 305-240.
* The system works... when they are consistent with it. When the Komets are disciplined enough to play it and trust it, Sims' strategy has allowed them to dominate at times. But, if one skater out of the five tries to freelance it falls apart.
Again, are they playing as a team or for themselves? The players who have played in Fort Wayne for a while are tired of waiting for some of the newcomers to stick to the strategy. They've had plenty of time to learn it so if they don't want to follow it they should be benched or gotten rid of.
* Despite these negatives, the Komets aren't far from potentially being very good. They have great coaching and goaltending along with plenty of depth at forward. If they can score three goals in a game they are 12-1. When they score less than three, they are 2-11-2. They've had 16 games so far decided by one goal or two goals with an empty-net goal.
That's how much difference one more goal or one power-play goal per game could mean. That's how close they are to being very good.
But the Komets' biggest need is the hardest thing to find, a defenseman to quarterback the power play. They have enough forwards to try a trade, but it's doubtful they could move one of the Norfolk forwards who might attract the most interest.
Somehow, the Komets have to find that one player.