Komets must stay out of the box to reach winner’s circle Opponents are averaging 1 more power play per game than Fort Wayne.

Sunday night’s game matched the ECHL teams with the most penalty-killing opportunities allowed in the Fort Wayne Komets and the team with the most power-play opportunities in the Wheeling Nailers.

The Nailers had a 6-3 advantage in power plays, but the Komets won 4-3 because they scored two goals with the man advantage and held the Nailers to one.

But the lack of discipline from the Komets is still a big problem.

“We did take some bad penalties tonight so that’s something we have to address, where we haven’t done that over the last few games,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “We got back to some bad habits there and we’re going to have to have a talk with the guys.”

The penalties have been a major emphasis for Graham at every practice, but opponents are basically averaging one more power-play opportunity per game, which has been a trend for a couple of seasons. It helped beat the Komets during last year’s playoffs. Even more critical is the timing of some of the penalties, as the Komets likely lead the ECHL in facing two-man disadvantages.

So, how often are penalties talked about in the locker room?

“We talk about it all the time, but in the heat of the moment, you’re not thinking about what was said in the locker room,” defenseman Dan Milan said. “You can’t get too out of control, and you have to put yourself in a good position.”

What’s really strange about this is it’s not the same three or even four players each night taking the penalties. Every player has been nailed with a whistle at inopportune times, 150 feet from the Fort Wayne net for unnecessary infractions. The Komets took a pair of those calls during the third period of Sunday night’s game when they were trying to protect a one-goal lead.

“Some guys it’s a matter of just having self-discipline,” captain Jamie Schaafsma said. “There are penalties where guys are just battling, and you’re going to take penalties. We are a tough team and we want to be hard to play against, so we’re fine with taking a few penalties a game. Our penalty kill has to pick it up a little bit, and we have to limit the stupid penalties.”

No one in the locker room or sitting in the stands has problems with penalties that stop scoring chances or are the result of playing hard defense. The problem is with penalties taken three-fourths of the way down the ice.

“We talk about it non-stop,” Schaafsma said. “It’s a constant battle with hockey teams. You look at Allen, though, and they are the most-penalized team in the league, and they are always at the top of the league. You have to play that game in this league, and you’re going to take penalties. You just have to limit the undisciplined ones here and there and make sure our penalty kill is doing better.”

But there have been plenty of times, especially during third periods of late, when the Komets have taken calls at critical times. Sure, sometimes opponents dive or goaltenders flop, but why are the Fort Wayne players putting themselves in those positions 175 feet from their own goal? Common sense has to kick in sometime, right?

There are also times when the Komets seem to be almost in battles with referees. No referee likes to be shown up or yelled at constantly, and the players know they have to do a better job of keeping their mouths shut on the ice.

“When you get a bad call, I think our team has a tendency to overreact sometimes because we have been on the wrong side of things sometimes,” defenseman Will Weber said. “We don’t do ourselves any favors sometimes. We just have to stay level-headed, which is easier said than done sometimes.”

The notoriety for barking at referees gets around the league quickly and is very difficult to overcome. Sometimes that can take years to change.

“Once they call it, nothing is going to change so maybe we need to play a little smarter,” forward Garrett Thompson said. “We know when we’re getting screwed over, but there are other times when we know we shouldn’t have taken that penalty. I just don’t think refs like our team. I think we have that reputation and that makes it harder.”

They’ve got 17 games to really clamp down and eliminate this tendency before the playoffs start. They want to be a championship team, and little things like this make huge differences in the postseason. <br>

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

<center><br> Up next </center><br>

Faceoff: Wheeling at Komets, 7:30 p.m. Friday

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