BLAKE SEBRING: Michael Houser carries Komets to end losing streak
The Fort Wayne Komets’ offense broke out Sunday to beat a tired Tulsa team 6-1 before 7,009 Memorial Coliseum fans, but the game’s real star was at the other end of the ice. Goaltender Michael Houser made the rest of his teammates look better than they played.
Technically, the Komets played a little better than they did during Friday’s sloppy home loss to Kansas City, but Houser erased most of their mistakes, stopping the odd-man rushes, reacting quickly to rebounds and essentially making his team’s overall defense appear better with 46 saves. In other words, he fulfilled the goaltender’s job description.
“I was seeing the puck pretty well and feeling it well and early on we kept the shots to the outside,” Houser said. “I haven’t been playing my best hockey and I know that I have a lot more to give, and I wanted to start tonight. Now we have a week of practice and hopefully I can take this feeling into next weekend.”
But there were some critical saves that determined the game.
After Fort Wayne built a 2-1 lead after the first period, Houser got bombed with 19 shots during the second period, and he stopped them all. There was a 2-on-1, a penalty shot and a couple of power plays. His teammates were still taking totally unnecessary penalties, giving up too many odd-man rushes and the forwards were often floating back into the defensive zone, but Houser made all those problems go away. Too often forwards were skating into the defensive zone looking around to see who they should cover.
And then Houser had to stop a breakaway at the start of the third period.
Fort Wayne came into the game on a three-game losing streak because of many of those same problems — including inconsistent goaltending — but Houser kept making the key stops before the Komets got into trouble or the crowd had a chance to get tense. After he stopped the 2-on-1 and the penalty shot — which would have made it a much different game — the Komets got a crash-the-net marker from new forward Louick Marcotte and a redirection in front from Dennis Kravchenko to take the heart out of the Oilers. By the time Gabriel Desjardins scored his second of three with 32 seconds in the period, the outcome was long decided with 20 minutes still to play.
But some of the problems need a lot more work, as the Komets continue to struggle away from the puck, especially with the forwards helping out defensively. The major difference from Friday that on Sunday the puck went in at the other end and it didn’t on the home side.
“They are a team that any time they get a chance to throw the puck at the net they are going there,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “He had to fight through a lot of traffic and work on his rebound control which is something we’ve been talking about with him. It was a perfect game for him to really get his mojo going and feel good about his rebound and his compete an battle around the net.”
Despite Desjardin’s had trick, Houser was the best player on the ice, controlling the flow and tempo of the game, preventing Tulsa from getting any hope and giving his teammates confidence, something the Komets goaltenders haven’t been consistently able to do so far. His teammates didn’t necessarily play a whole lot better Sunday, but Houser’s performance gives the Komets hope that this early-season slump might be about to turn around.
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.