Komets stifle Swamp Rabbits to overcome sloppy effort

Komets defenseman Ryan Culkins hits the post with a third-period shot Friday night against Greenville. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

Despite having 7,410 of his closest friends scrutinizing his every twitch, goaltender Michael Houser must have been the loneliest person in Memorial Coliseum during the second period Friday night.

After an atrocious first period, the Komets came out and dominated Greenville, out-shooting the Swamp Rabbits 21-0 to build a 3-1 lead on their way to a 4-1 win. It’s the third time in the Komets’ 66-year history they have not allowed a shot during a period. The first time happened in 1990 against Peoria and again in 2006 against Quad City.

According to the Komets’ shot chart, the Swamp Rabbits attempted seven shots during the second period, but none of them go through to the net. The Komets’ defensemen passed the puck back to Houser three times. The boredom had to be crushing.

“It’s tough,” he said. “I went back and played the puck a lot to at least get a couple of touches. We kept the puck in front of us and didn’t give up much. You know when you get that first shot, you’re going to have to fight it off, and the first one I kind of bobbled it and it went up off my shoulder. I’ve been through it enough before, and on this team, we don’t give up too much usually.”

But that shot didn’t come until early in the third period. The Komets out-shot the Swamp Rabbits 42-15 during the game to improve to 15-1-1 over their last 17 games, while the Swamp Rabbits have lost eight games in a row. The win keeps Fort Wayne one point up on Toledo in the ECHL’s Central Division and one point behind Colorado for the Western Conference lead. The Komets have played one fewer game than the Walleye and two fewer than the Eagles.

Despite the final score, the Komets were sloppy most of the night, especially during the first period when they struggled against Greenville’s neutral zone trap.

“Well, I thought we played like crap,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “We had an unbelievable second period where guys stuck to the gameplan, but the first and the third periods were awful. I thought Mike was by far the best player in the first period, and he kept us in it. You could tell we had a week off. We just weren’t sharp and our timing was off. We had a lot of guys turning pucks over. It was very frustrating to see how we played in the first period. Legs at one point counted 15 turnovers. Ugly hockey on our part in the third period, but luckily it didn’t cost us.”

The Swamp Rabbits are missing 10 regulars to injuries, call-ups and defections to Europe and lack the firepower to take over a game. Goaltender Ty Rimmer was excellent but didn’t get much help.

“We knew who we were playing and the unfortunate part is it got away from us,” said Greenville coach Brian Gratz, a former Komet and Fort Wayne native. “Fort Wayne is a good team and you can only hold them back for so long. They were beating us to pucks and winning the battles and moving their feet when we weren’t. We obviously try and gameplan for our opponents and we prepared our guys. Then they made some adjustments and our guys obviously weren’t up to the task.”

Graham is obviously expecting a better, smarter effort during tonight’s 7:30 p.m. rematch.

“For us, it’s about we’re going to keep doing our thing until somebody makes us change it,” Graham said. “They came in with a different look than what they have shown and it stifled guys and it took them a while to figure out how to get through it. In the second period, we executed to a T because we made the adjustments. It’s one thing to make an adjustment, but the guys have to do it. Then we get away from it now in the third period. Consistency for the 60 minutes was a big-time weakness for us tonight.”