BLAKE SEBRING: Komets continue struggling to find balance
Right now, the Fort Wayne Komets are stuck on their tip-toes at the edge of a cliff, windmilling their arms to try maintaining any sort of balance so they don’t tip over. A few of their fans are also poking them in back to nudge them forward a little.
After rallying with two third-period goals to force overtime, the Komets lost to the Kansas City Mavericks 4-3 on Friday night before 7,023 in Memorial Coliseum. The Komets out-shot the Mavericks 38-20, including probably an extra 25 shots 5-on-5, but the Mavericks scored two power-play goals in seven chances.
The Komets are 5-5-2, including 3-2-2 at home and 3-5-2 over their last 10 games after losing three straight games. It’s their second three-game losing streak of the season.
“We continue to see we just can’t connect all the pieces to the puzzle, I think that’s what it is,” coach Gary Graham said. “We go into Toledo yesterday and we win the special teams game and you lose the 5-on-5 game. Tonight we we lose the special teams game but out-play them 5-on-5. We can’t put together our special teams, our 5-on-5 and our goaltending all together. It seems to be when one is missing we’re not coming out on the right side of it. We have to connect all three of those things together in order to start consistently winning.”
Except maybe for opening night, the Komets have yet to play a complete game in terms of consistent effort. No one seems to be able to puck good games together back-to-back individually so there’s little chance of it happening as a team.
As Graham pointed out, coming into Friday’s game the Komets were fourth in the league in power play, third in penalty kill and they led the league with the fewest shots per game allowed. They were also seventh in goals per game. They were 13th in goals allowed.
“There’s a lot of good, but it seems like when the bad creeps in that’s what’s keeping us from taking the next step to winning consistently,” Graham said. “Tonight, we took some penalties (but) we’ve been pretty disciplined so far this year. We took a couple of bad penalties and that didn’t help us. When you are struggling a little bit trying to find you way, it seems like you need to have some things go your way to get out of it. Down 3-1, the guys… there was a lot of positivity. Having Leonard and Mags fight tonight, guys are trying to step up. Again, we have to have three phases. We have to connect the goaltending, the special teams and the 5-on-5 play.”
Before the game, the Komets traded Ralph Cuddemi to Wichita for forward Louick Marcotte.
“We feel that we have with our forward group, we had too many of the same type of forwards,” Graham said. “Louie is a guy who is a shoot-first type of guy, he hangs around the net, he drives the net, that’s where he’s built to play. He’s a bigger guy, too. With our forward group we’re trying to get bigger if we can. So that’s the reason why we made the deal, to get more of a hard-nosed guy in there, more of a North and South guy.”
For whatever reason, the overall lines and defensive pairings don’t seem to be working. Other than Ryan Binkley and Cody Sol on the defense, Graham can’t seem to find pairings that work with the other four blueliners. No one looks comfortable back there, and they can’t seem to figure out when to and not to pinch into the offensive zone without giving up an odd-man rush the other way.
The forwards are simply a mess. Sometimes they play great individually, but can’t seem to mesh as lines. Sometimes they are all looking to shoot and can’t get the set-up passes, and other times they pass way too much instead of shooting on net. Usually when the Komets can’t score it’s because the forwards don’t seem willing to go to the dirty areas in front of the net to get close. They were doing that Friday, but the shots from the outside weren’t getting through.
They also need to play with the same intensity in the first two periods as they did during the third, but the early penalties killed the chances for that.
The goaltending hasn’t been great, but neither has the team defense. Toledo scored six on Thursday because at times no one picked up the trailer consistently, and a couple of times because the defenseman didn’t do anything with the man skating next to him. On Friday night, the Komets didn’t allow many chances, but the second goal in particular was a total defensive breakdown where they let the shooter skate all the way into goaltender Michael Houser’s face before shooting. At times, some of the defensemen look scared to step up into opponents, continually giving ground until there’s no where else to go. The same thing happened on the overtime goal.
The odd thing is, they may be close to breaking through if they can force one or two more good breaks a game. They simply have to work hard enough to force those breaks, and that’s not happening.
“The group is going to stay tight,” Graham said. “We’re going to stay together and we’re going to work our way through it. Every team goes through it. Every season is different and sometimes it happens sooner than later. You never know when it’s going to hit you. We just have to get everything connected together. Once that happens, we’ll be fine.”
On paper, this team should be much better than it’s record, but their record accurately reflects exactly how they have played.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at email@example.com.