As if there isn’t enough pressure on the Komets to play well on New Year’s Eve – they will face the Toledo Walleye 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in what’s usually a packed Memorial Coliseum – I feel as if some of the players will be skating to keep their jobs.
A 5-4 loss to the Kalamazoo Wings today dropped Fort Wayne to 0-4-3 in its last seven games. That’s the longest winless streak since the team joined the ECHL in the summer of 2012.
Yes, the Komets are missing a ton of talent – Jermaine Loewen, Brady Shaw, Max Gottlieb and Markus Phillips are in the higher-level American Hockey League; Shawn St-Amant, Brad Morrison and Will Petschenig are injured – but that’s just an excuse at this point.
The Wings, who have won five in a row, are also missing a lot of their talent.
The Komets’ first period was woeful when it comes to turnovers and defensive coverage, and the result was a 3-1 deficit. Look at the video highlights above of the Wings’ first and third goals, in particular, as they were set up by Fort Wayne players.
“I thought we had the majority of our team going but a couple of guys, single-handedly, didn’t have a good game and the puck wound up in the back of the net and that’s the way she goes,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “Right now, it’s about digging down deep, making sure we can look ourselves in the mirror. I thought we had a great effort, but there were mental mistakes that ended up costing us the game.”
Those plays outweighed the bright moments from the first period for Fort Wayne: an energy providing fight by Shawn Szydlowski with Wings captain Ben Wilson; and a beautiful Taylor Ross goal that saw him stickhandle up ice, send the puck to the left of Dauda, skate around the other side, get the puck back and flick it past goaltender Jake Hildebrand.
The Komets were scrappy, as usual, getting goals from Brett McKenzie, A.J. Jenks and Alan Lyszczarczyk in the second and third periods, but the result was another loss.
“It was tough to get a gauge on that game,” Jenks said. “The chances were there, the effort was there and the work ethic was there. It was just a matter of executing and not beating ourselves, not doing the mistakes that are costing us goals at crucial times.”
It’s way too soon to panic; the Komets (15-11-5) are still in third place in the division and have 41 games left in the season.
However, the current recipe isn’t working. The Komets may have played with only five defensemen today – thanks to Kyle Haas’ suspension for flipping off the Wings’ bench Saturday – but I don’t think there’s much trust in this team’s ability to be stingy despite it exhibiting good defensive play for a stretch in late November and earlier December.
The onus is on the leaders in the locker room – players such as Szydlowski, Jenks and Binkley – to get the group to buckle down. It’s not about effort; it’s a lack of execution. There have also been bad penalties and, as Boudreau has pointed out, too much griping toward the referees instead of just playing.
“Right now, it’s just not working for us. It always seems to be a one-goal difference by the end of it. It’s tough,” Boudreau said. “It’s a mental struggle, there’s no question about it. To lose that many guys, it’s tough to replace and you need everybody pulling in the same direction. If you don’t have 18 guys going for 60 minutes, you’re not going to end up with the two points. That’s your mathematical equation. You can’t have 12 guys go and play for 55 minutes and end up with only one point. You need everybody to go the entire game to get those two points. Right now, we’re trying as hard as we can but it’s not all coming together at the same time.”
Back to that playing for jobs reference of mine. No one has explicitly come out and said that trades are on the horizon, but you can usually tell around here by the way people are talking. And, yes, the Komets have a lot of players of value, even among the players who are coughing up the puck all the time.
If we know anything from this season, so far, it’s that we don’t know who will be here or in the AHL any given day. So the Komets have to make sure the baseline ECHL-level players are reliable. If they don’t look better on Tuesday, mark my words, moves are coming.