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Goaltenders step up to lead Komets' wins

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Reichard, Makarov settle things down in busy week

Monday, December 16, 2013 - 12:01 am

This past week will likely be remembered for all the roster moves the Fort Wayne Komets made, but maybe it'll be more important by the end of the season that it's when the goaltenders stepped up.

The trade of Rob Kwiet, Bobby Hughes and Brett Lyon for Mike Embach and Nathan Martine may turn out to be season-changing. Both Embach and Martine played well this weekend wearing orange and black for the first time and should improve with more practice time and familiarity.

But maybe it was figuring out some players they already had which will be the biggest improvement from this weekend.

The Komets put together pretty decent back-to-back defensive games over the weekend, with Andrey Makarov making 34 saves in Saturday's 4-1 win at Kalamazoo, and then Cody Reichard came back with 40 saves in Sunday's 4-1 win over Evansville.

``I thought our goalies really kept us in both games,'' winger Mike Vaskivuo said. ``We'll take the win, and the club is on a roll. The goalies are getting hot for us at the right time and we'll ride them for now.''

The Komets won most of the battles in front of the boards, let their goaltenders see the shots coming at them mostly from long range and cleared the rebounds effectively. They looked like a solid defensive team that took advantage of a few offensive opportunities and took some pressure off their goaltenders by building big early leads.

For once, the goaltenders didn't have to make life-or-death saves on every shift after the first period.

To say it nicely, the goalies struggled to find consistency through the first 20 games and so had the team in front of them sometimes because of it. Going into the weekend, neither Reichard or Makarov ranked among the ECHL's top 30 netminders, but Reichard improved his save percentage from .893 to .905 with one game, and Markarov dropped his goals against average from 3.00 to 2.85.

``Solid goaltending,'' Komets coach Gary Graham said. ``Two guys who we really believe in as a team, that was the storyline this weekend.''

Maybe just as importantly, Graham is figuring out how best to use Reichard and Makarov. Maybe neither can be a regular No. 1 goaltender who plays three out of four games and carries a team. Instead, possibly it's best to alternate them so they each maintain equal playing time.

Makarov is only 20, and Reichard has never been a true No. 1 in two years as a professional. The great thing about a system like this is they can push each other to improve and play their best. This isn't like a quarterback competition where if you don't have one top guy you don't have any.

The best thing about the weekend may not be found in the statistics, though, but rather in the moments. When the Komets' defensive play broke down, both Reichard and Makarov stepped up and erased those mistakes. They didn't give up any soft goals, and that's the kind of play their teammates can build confidence off.

``Our goalies, when things weren't going our way really made some huge saves,'' forward Brandon Marino said. ``Tonight, in the second and third we got away from our gameplan a little bit in our own zone, but Cody made the big saves. Winning teams have good goalies who make the big saves when you need them.''

Fort Wayne played four of its last five games on the road but still came up with seven of a possible 10 points. With seven of their next nine games at home, maybe their goalies can continue keeping everything in front of them and the Komets can shove their slow start a long way behind them.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at .