On the heels of a dreadful 8-4 New Year’s Eve loss to the rival Toledo Walleye, coach Ben Boudreau’s message was clear: changes are coming.
“We’ve got to regroup,” he said late Tuesday. “We’ve got a day off now, but this group is just not getting it done and we’ve got to go find some guys who can get it done, to be honest with you. Whatever it is right now, we’ve got to find a solution.”
The Komets are mired in an eight-game winless streak, their longest since joining the ECHL in the summer of 2012.
After last spring’s disappointing first-round exit at the hands of Toledo, and the ensuing coaching change from Gary Graham to Boudreau, there’s not much evidence right now that an extended playoff run is on the horizon for the Komets.
The Komets (15-12-5) are four points back of the Walleye (18-9-3) for second place in the Central Division and nine points back of Cincinnati. Wheeling is now one point back of the Komets.
The eight goals allowed was the most for Fort Wayne since the 11-0 loss to the Walleye on March 2.
Toledo has won all four meetings this season with Fort Wayne, which was 37-28-14 in its 2019 games.
“It starts in net, 100 percent,” Boudreau said. “Everything is built out from the net. We can’t give up three goals on eight shots. Then I look up at the clock and it’s seven goals on 27 (shots). You’ll never win giving up that many shots. I’m not faulting it (all) on the goalies, but numbers don’t lie. You look at these things and, collectively, we have to be better. Are the defensemen part of the goaltenders’ stats? Absolutely. But at the same time, we need our guys to find a way to make a difference.”
Cole Kehler, who started for the Komets, was pulled after stopping only 5 of 8 shots. His replacement, Dylan Ferguson, stopped 15 of 19.
“We’re not getting performances in net and our defense right now, we’re giving up goals,” Boudreau said. “When you start to see big timely saves at the right times, you start taking heat off the defensemen a little bit and the forwards have got to help out. They’re not off the hook either.”
Gage Torrel scored twice for the Komets. Shane Berschbach had a hat trick for the Walleye.
The Komets donned special “Blackout” jerseys that were raffled off to fans attending the 63rd New Year’s Eve game in the team’s 68th season of play. Fort Wayne has an all-time record on Dec. 31 of 41-17-5, including a 5-8-0 mark against teams from Toledo.
There was a buzz to begin the night, because a sellout crowd of 10,479 was on hand and because the Komets introduced A.J. Jenks as their new captain when he took to the ice for the opening faceoff. (The Komets had used only alternate captains this season in Jenks, Shawn Szydlowski, Jason Binkley and Brady Shaw.)
But the buzz fizzled soon.
“It’s tough to put your finger on one thing. We’ve got a handful of things that keep coming back to bite us,” Jenks said. “Once again, it’s not a volume of mistakes. It’s the time and place we’re making the mistakes. That’s what’s hurting us. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot and not giving ourselves an opportunity, always trying to fight back from a deficit.”
Jenks said he still believes this group of players can get it done.
“Without a doubt, for sure,” Jenks said. “I feel like we outplayed those guys for the majority of the night and … the mistakes we made were at the right time and place. They’d get a perfect-storm breakdown where they get a Grade A scoring chance. They did a great job capitalizing on their opportunities and we weren’t as good at capitalizing. That’s part of the difference.”
It took only 1:39 and one shot on goal for the Walleye to set the tone for the night. A whiffed shot by Fort Wayne’s Taylor Doherty set off a 2-on-1 rush in the other direction and former NHL player T.J. Hensick scored for a 1-0 lead.
Toledo’s goaltender, Billy Christopoulos, who finished with 32 saves, thwarted shots from point-blank range by Szydlowski and Jenks in the ensuing minutes to maintain the lead.
Toledo’s Josh Kestner had a breakaway while his team was shorthanded at 6:10 but hit the post.
Fort Wayne’s Torrel tied it by spinning from the right boards, taking advantage of a screen in front and sending the puck underneath Christopoulos at 12:10.
The Walleye answered on its seventh shot; Berschbach skated from the blue line to behind the net and beat Kehler on a wraparound at 15:41. Toledo’s eighth shot saw another goal from Troy Loggins, who attacked from center ice, slithered through the entirety of the Fort Wayne defense and made it 3-1 by snapping a shot high on Kehler at 16:30.
Kehler was pulled after the first period. The first two shots Ferguson faced, however, resulted in another Toledo goal – Justin Buzzeo off a rebound at 1:10 into the second period.
But a wild goal saw the Komets break the momentum at 4:38. Toledo’s Charle-Edouard D’Astous was skating out from behind his own net during a power play, thinking no one was defending him, and Szydlowski suddenly spun a poked the puck out of his grasp and into the bottom of the net, cutting the Walleye lead to 4-2.
After Toledo’s Kyle Bonis scored a power-play goal, Fort Wayne’s Shaquille Merasty finished off a 2-on-1 rush at 17:10 to cut the Walleye’s lead to 5-3.
Berschbach’s slapshot from the left circle 2:47 into the third period gave Toledo a 6-3 lead, though Fort Wayne’s Torrel answered at 8:49.
The Komets face the Indy Fuel 7:30 p.m. Friday at Indianapolis and return to the Coliseum on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. game against the Kalamazoo Wings.