BLAKE SEBRING: Komets are crushing teams with offense

Mason Baptista slides the puck through the pads of Wichita goaltender Shane Starrett on Fort Wayne's first shot of  the game Wednesday night to give the Komets a 1-0 lead. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

Mason Baptista slides the puck through the pads of Wichita goaltender Shane Starrett on Fort Wayne's first shot of the game Wednesday night to give the Komets a 1-0 lead. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

This is an unique Fort Wayne Komets team. Yeah, they have the tightness in the locker room to be able to call themselves a brotherhood, and they are as physically tough as anyone in the ECHL, but lately, they’ve been turning on more red lights than a traffic planner.

After scoring nine goals against the Wichita Thunder on Wednesday night, the Komets have scored 22 goals over their last three games and 56 over their last 10 to go 9-1. They’ve suddenly become the 1983 Edmonton Oilers.

Let’s put it this way: the Komets haven’t had this kind of a high-scoring team since 1994! That’s before six current players were born and the rest were mostly wearing diapers.

“Tonight, we played the way you have to play,” Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma said. “It might have been an off night for them, but we did the right things and played the way you have to play. This team has a lot of firepower, and every team in the league knows that. When things are going good for us, we can score a lot of goals. I thought we played pretty well all the way to the end.”

Easy for him to say since he’s the only guy on the scoresheet who didn’t get a point. Instead of his normal forward position, he was playing as a very capable defenseman for the fourth game in a row. Still, that’s no excuse! Over their last six games, 15 different players have scored goals.

Even crazier, the Komets trailed 2-1 after the first period when they simply turned up their offensive output, and the Thunder simply couldn’t match the speed. It was like watching the older kids on the playground playing keep-away, but Wichita was nine games over .500 coming in.

It could have easily become the first time the Komets have scored 10 goals in a game since Feb. 20, 2009, at Flint, but they were trying to make the perfect play instead of the easy one in the first period. They out-shot the Thunder 18-8 but trailed 2-1 because they Wichita is good enough to convert mistakes.

“The biggest thing I said is we’re getting too cute and fancy,” Komets coach Gary Graham. “We talked to the guys about this after the Rapid City game on our way into Wheeling (on Sunday). Listen, this eventually is going to start biting us in the butt… This habit of us not shooting has to stop. Sometimes you can get away with it, and we’ve been getting away with it because we’ve been scoring a lot of goals, but…”

The offense has been so good it has been covering up some pretty strong defensive mistakes, usually by the forwards not getting back consistently or peeking ahead a little too much at the offensive zone and leaving their defensemen in trouble. Fortunately, goaltender Garrett Bartus has won nine games in a row and has been cleaning up a lot of those opportunities.

Eventually, this will have to change, and the Komets have been working hard defensively in practice.

“Obviously, we have to tighten up a little bit defensively,” said ECHL scoring leader Shawn Szydlowski. “Why change anything if you are scoring that much? You probably aren’t going to lose too many games when teams have to out-score you.”

The really crazy thing about this stretch is that the Komets can definitely play better. Justin Hodgman is still getting adjusted after missing three months. Because of AHL call-ups, they are doing it without Artie Tyanulin, Dan Maggio and Ryan Culkin (who will be back today), and Zac Larazzo is on injured reserve and is aching for a chance to get into the lineup. Their power play has also been powerless, scoring five goals over its last 48 chances in 13 games. And did you notice Schaafsma has been playing defense?

There are 31 games left for all of that to get better, and it is the dog days of the season, and Graham is pretty good at jerking the leash as the playoffs approach.

But this kind of hot streak can’t last, can it? After all, Fort Wayne has won nine championships based on turning the ice into slush with dominating defense, which, you know, has a pretty good track record of determining titles. The Komets are known not for high-flying offenses but for producing great goaltenders. For 35 years, Fort Wayne fans have been hypnotized to cheer for 2-1 or 3-2, maybe even the occasional 4-3 wins, but never 6-4, 7-3 or 9-3.

This is all sacrilegious! It just feels wrong!

But, man, it sure is fun to watch.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com.

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