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Komets headed into showdown with ECHL's hottest goalie

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Komets at South Carolina
Faceoff: 7 p.m.
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM

Komets notes: Marino's race, Butler's streak and possible Reiter return

Friday, March 1, 2013 - 5:51 am

The Komets are hoping they broke out of their goal slump just in time because they likely won't get many chances to score this weekend in South Carolina.

Stingrays goaltender Ryan Zapolski leads the ECHL with a 1.70 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. He's also likely to be the league's Most Valuable Player. Before Gwinnett beat him Tuesday, Zapolski had won three straight shutouts and had four shutouts in his last six games.

Zapolski was released by Gwinnett in November and picked up by South Carolina. The Road Warriors already had three other goalies on the roster at the time.

These two games are huge for the Komets because South Carolina is seventh in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, eight points ahead of the Komets. It could be a fun duel to watch between Fort Wayne goaltender Jeff Deslauriers and Zapolski.

Looking ahead

One fun thing to watch over these last 14 games of the regular season is how well forward Brandon Marino does the rest of the way. The right wing ranks second among ECHL scorers with 63 points. Gwinnett's Casey Pierro-Zabotel leads the league with 65, and Florida's Mathieu Roy has 62. Marino also has two more games to play than Pierro-Zabotel.

What's interesting is that the Komets have not had a player finish as the league scoring leader since Lonnie Loach in 1990-91. On the strength of 55 goals and 76 assists, and with help from linemates Bruce Boudreau and John Anderson, Loach led the International Hockey League with 131 points. He turned that into a contract with the Detroit Red Wings and eventually played briefly in the National Hockey League with Ottawa, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Another streak on the line is Tyler Butler's stretch of consecutive games played. Because J.M. Rizk and Marino missed one game when they were called up to Norfolk of the American Hockey League, Butler is the only Komet who can play in all 72 games this season.

In fact, Butler has only missed eight games during his nine-year pro career and has a personal streak of 169 games going.

It'll be tough

Though they know it will be difficult, the Komets believe they still have a chance to make the playoffs. They'll need some help.

The schedule is good in that they only have to play three games in three nights once this month, but the quality of the competition is substantial. The Komets play 14 games, and 11 are against teams already in playoff position. Eight of the games will be played at home.

Maybe the best thing about the schedule for the Komets is that they have two games with South Carolina tonight and Saturday, three games remaining with Kalamazoo, and two more with Elmira. Those are three teams they'll probably have to beat out to clinch a playoff spot.

Wouldn't it be something if the final two games of the regular season turn out to be crucial? Those games are at Kalamazoo on March 29 and at home against the Wings on March 30.

How bad is it?

This team has a chance to be the lowest-scoring Komets club in the franchise's 61-year history.

The Komets are currently averaging 2.83 goals per game. The record is 2.72 goals per game in the 1996-97 season. The 2010-11 and 1956-57 Komets averaged 2.83 goals per game.

Returning soon?

There's a good chance Kenny Reiter might be coming back soon as the New York Islanders have assigned Rick DiPietro to Bridgeport of the AHL. Reiter actually has the best goaltending stats on the Sound Tigers with a 3.04 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.

Defenseman Daniel Maggio is also playing well with Lake Erie with a goal and two points in 10 games with 34 penalty minutes. He's plus-1.

Icing the puck

With the recent additions of Jeff Deslauriers and Michael Jordan, the Komets have used 48 players this season. Last year they used 27. The franchise record is 52 in 1996-97. ... The last time the Komets finished with a losing record in a season was also in 1996-97 when they finished 28-47-7. ... The Komets are averaging 7,429 fans per game, which leads the ECHL and ranks fifth in minor league hockey behind American Hockey League teams Hershey, Chicago, Providence and Lake Erie. ... Injured Komets John Dunbar and Scott Kishel should be ready to play next week.