Observations on Friday’s Komets game

Komets forward Mason Baptista tries to skate into the face of Toledo goaltender Matej Machovsky during the second period, but the Walleye is still able to make the save. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

* It’s totally possible that the goaltending in the ECHL, particularly in the Central Division, might be 25 percent better than last year. These kids are so athletic, so big and take up so much of the net, it’s just incredibly hard to score on them.

Heading into Friday’s game against Toledo, the Komets had been getting every young goaltender’s best effort. Over the last 10 games, the Komets were 5-4-1 despite out-shooting opponents by an average of 36.5 to 28.1 over those 10 games. The goal differential? The Komets were actually out-scored 36-35 in those games because the goaltending has been great.

* Then Toledo’s Matej Machovsky shut them out during the first two periods despite the Komets out-shooting the Walleye 25-15. No matter how many pucks or bodies the Komets seemed to throw at hime, Machovsky was brilliant, easily the best player on the ice.

But he got out-played by Michael Houser the rest of the way in a 3-2 Komets shootout win. Houser didn’t face many shots — only 20 for the game and only 10 after the first period — but many of them were true testers. Then he made two exceptional saves in overtime and three during the shootout.

* Besides Houser, the Komets ultimately won because they finally did something coach Gary Graham has been begging them to do, something they work on in every practice, but they rarely seem to do during games. Every stinking day!

“I thought it was very fitting that the first goal was exactly what’ we’ve been harping and preaching, and that’s ugly offense,” Graham said. “Shoot far pad off the rush and crash the back door, and that’s exactly how (Shawn) Szydlowski scores. It couldn’t have been a better goal for our team. Sometimes simple is too easy. Just do it, but it’s almost too easy and sometimes guys just don’t want to do it. I thought it was very fitting for what we’ve been preaching this week in practice. We knew with a lot of guys out and the lineup we had, it was probably going to be some ugly offense that we needed.”

Ryan Culkin took a pass from Garrett Thompson at the blue line, fired far pad with Szydlowski charging the far post and pushed the rebound in.

* Another thing the Komets worked on this week in practice was net-front battles. They beat the tar out of each other on Tuesday, going basically full-tilt against each other in a long practice to emphasize their short-comings in that area. Friday night, they won a ton of net-front battles at both ends. That’s part of why the Walleye got only 20 shots.

* I understand fans get frustrated when they see the same mistakes week after week, but trust me, they are actually working on those areas in practice. Honest. It also gets pointed out in team video sessions. Sometimes the players simply don’t get it, forget it or they aren’t capable of changing. There’s a reason they are playing AA hockey. And as frustrated as the fans get, can you imagine how frustrating that is for the coaches?

* If Toledo every gets everybody healthy, say in the playoffs, the Walleye will have to be Kelly Cup favorites. If everybody can play, their lineup will have a remarkable amount of talent, maybe the best the Komets have faced during their six years in the ECHL.

* How many times did the Komets try to force long end-to-end passes early in the game that never worked? They finally made the adjustment in the third period and they kept the Walleye penned in their own zone.

* For the first two periods, it looked like the Komets forwards had never played or even practiced together. That’s actually pretty much true. The Komets had to go without Jamie Schaafsma (illness), Gabriel Desjardins (groin) and Dennis Kravchenko (back), which meant the Komets had the reshuffle almost everything up front.

“We had three great days of practice, and everything we practiced got changed literally with in the last 12 hours. Everything,” Graham said.

That’s part of why the Komets had so many turnovers during the first two periods and at times couldn’t seem to get out of their own zone. The defensemen were hesitating and taking time to look up to see where the forwards were because, frankly, they weren’t really sure. They got a lot more comfortable during the third period.

* Without Schaafsma, Kravchenko and Justin Hodgman in the lineup, the Komets were struggling big-time on faceoffs. They were using newly acquired Logan Nelson there, but he was the only natural center in the Fort Wayne lineup. That meant Mason Baptista and Joseph Widmar had to take a lot of draws. Once in a while the Komets will use Shawn Szydlowski on a draw, but usually that’s only in the offensive zone and then only on the right side so he can just pull the puck back on his backhand.

There simply weren’t a lot of options Friday night.

* Also, without players like Schaafsma, Kravchenko, Desjardins, Hodgman and with Marc-Olivier Roy and Artur Tyanulin on call-ups, the Komets were severely lacking in team speed from the squad they had a month ago. That really showed up during the 3-on-3 overtime, which is one reason why the Komets played so defensively during the extra session. Toledo had a huge advantage in skill and speed playing 3-on-3, so the Komets basically, and smartly, played it safe.

* If you’d like to learn something about the game, or maybe more about the game, one key tip would be to not watch the puck during a shift, but concentrate on a single player and watch them. Are they skating figure eights out there? Are they hustling? Do they even care about defense?

One player who never disappoints this way is Garrett Thompson. It is so much fun sometimes to simply watch him operate around the other team’s net. Opposing defensemen must think he’s a total pain in the neck to play against because he’s always moving, always using whatever they try against them, not to mention that he’s big and he can skate. He’s a beast down low.

* Most goaltenders hate shootouts, but Michael Houser said he actually likes them. He certainly likes them better than the 3-on-3 overtime format.

* Yes, referee Jeremy Tufts sometimes calls a different game, but he’s actually pretty consistent for the most part. Still, you have to give the Komets a lot of credit for only giving the Walleye one power-play attempt Friday night. Maybe they are finally starting to understand and execute the gameplan for what it takes to beat the Walleye. We’ll find out for sure Wednesday in Toledo.