Less than a month ago, the Fort Wayne Komets thought they were ready to make a run at first place. Ten games later, they're trying to figure out if they still have a shot to make the playoffs.
Not if they shoot like they did in Friday's 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones. Despite leading in shots 9-4 10 minutes into the first period, the Komets were outshot 31-22 in the game. They might have had more scoring chances than the Cyclones, but they missed high, they missed wide, they sometimes missed even getting shots off.
Different opponent, but the same game as the Komets lost for the sixth time in a row to fall to 26-27-2. The last time they were under .500 this late in the season was 1999.
``I'm just not sure how many other ways we can find to lose,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``It would be different if Cincinnati made a nice play and scored, but that's just the way pucks are falling for us right now.''
The Komets are 2-8 in February, and they've scored 11 goals in those losses. With that kind of slump going, Cincinnati's 1-0 lead in the first and 2-1 in the third felt more like 3-0 or 4-1.
After Thomas Beauregard was unable to convert on a strong scoring chance at the Cincinnati end, the Cyclones came right back up the ice and on a wrist shot by David Pacan. The Komets rallied on a second-period power-play blast by Jamie Milam. It was the Komets' first power-play marker in their last 20 chances.
The Komets got a great chance when Cincinnati's Jack MacLellan got a four-minute high-sticking call for hitting Fort Wayne's Kaleigh Schrock at 12:55 of the second period, but Fort Wayne couldn't generate any shots on goal.
Then the third period started. The Cyclones are a great team in the final period, outscoring opponents 66-47, and the Komets are not, getting outscored 73-54 this season.
Everyone seemed to be waiting for something bad to happen, and Komets captain Colin Chaulk made the critical mistake. While battling for the puck behind his own goal, Chaulk tried to pass to defenseman Dan Nycholat in front, but the puck hit the side of the goal. Cincinnati's MacLellan beat everyone to the puck and passed to Josh Shalla, who surprised Komets goaltender Jeff Deslauriers.
``I don't know what happened,'' Chaulk said. ``It was a turnover on my part. I was just trying to pass it in front of the net for a breakout.''
The Komets could not recover and were outshot 13-7 in the third period. Even a power play during the last two minutes was ineffective despite an extra skater.
``I think everything is there,'' Sims said. ``You don't play the best team in the division and hold them to a 1-1 game unless you are playing your (butts) off. They are the best team, and we gave them all I think they can handle.''
Fort Wayne's playoff hopes are flickering. The Komets are now in 11th place, one point ahead of Wheeling, which comes to town Sunday, and only the top eight teams make the playoffs.
There are 17 games left, and the Komets probably need to win 13 to guarantee a postseason spot. The Komets are eight points out of a playoff spot, and eighth-place Elmira has played two fewer games.
That's not a very good shot.