The stupefying outcome of Sunday's Fort Wayne Komets game has been coming for weeks. Just like warmer weather, there have been hints, stops and starts and hopes, but it is still March and winter doesn't let go easily. Neither does sub-par hockey habits.
The Komets built a 4-0 lead after the first period against the Florida Everblades who were coming off an 8-2 loss the night before against Toledo. It was a stat night, every Fort Wayne player must have been thinking. It was, but for the Everblades who rallied to win 6-4, maybe the worst blown Komets home lead since they lost a 5-0 advantage in the 1994 Turner Cup Finals to Atlanta.
This was not nearly as painful, and it might end up being a good loss if the Komets can accept the skate boot to their backsides and change the poor habits which have dominated their games.
They've been coasting for a few weeks, winning on superior talent despite inferior execution. They've let teams they should have handled quickly hang around or they've gone all-out to erase deficits they never should have had. They've been dominating in third periods and usually pretty good in the first, but never in all three.
There have been plenty of lazy line changes, forwards with heads dropping after turnovers in the offensive end instead of hustling back and lots of missed defensive assignments. The goaltenders have kept them in games they deserved to lose. Too many forwards are playing along the boards instead of paying the price to get to the high slot or the front of the net, sliding by instead of stopping to tie up a defenseman or distract a goaltender. Lots of players are settling for perimeter shots.
There's been little hitting, lots of lost battles for loose pucks and a ton of turnovers at the blue line. Instead of moving their skates defensively, they are often reaching with sticks.
And frankly, there are several forwards who aren't doing much of anything. They aren't shooting, they aren't battling and they aren't competing. They're doing their own things and refusing to follow the coach's system which is designed to make the game easier for the entire team. They've quit grinding which is the style this team needs to play.
It's all the little things they haven't been doing that finally took a big bite out of them Sunday.
The inconsistent play hasn't really hurt them in the standings, and that's a big part of this. With seven games left in the regular season, they are 14 points behind first-place Toledo and still six points up on third-place Quad City with a game in hand on the Mallards. The games have lacked urgency for the last month, and there's not a lot to play for right now other than individual numbers. They've kept winning at home, but their road record and play have both been uninspired.
Quite a few players are dealing with minor injuries, and maybe they are mentally tired, especially with a brutally busy schedule over the last few weeks. That's actually why they should be sticking to the gameplans and making the games easier on themselves. While everyone else is looking forward to spring break, the Komets won't get any vacation with another four games in five nights starting Wednesday.
The playoffs are still three weeks away, but the players can't just turn on a better, more disciplined effort when they begin. Sports doesn't work that way. Nothing in life does, actually. They have to start executing better so they are playing efficiently in three weeks when the games matter a lot more again.
Luckily, they have time to rebuild those habits, and they are still a good team. Sunday was the Komets' first regulation home loss since Jan. 13 (a 13-0-1 span), and there's hope from the coaches and the players that this embarrassing performance will be a good thing in the long run. It will quickly be forgotten if the Everblades' uppercut regains their attention in a hurry.
This could get them ready in a hurry for the postseason they're all waiting for.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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