When the Komets re-signed forward Shawn Szydlowski, they did so because he’s capable of making plays very few others at the Double-A level of hockey can.
On Sunday, in his fifth game back, that was on display.
He had a magnificent assist, sending a no-look pass through his own legs for a Will Graber goal, and Szydlowski scored from the right circle in a 6-4 victory over the Indy Fuel in front of 6,525 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
“It was beautiful and that’s what he does,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said of the pass by Szydlowski, who had offseason back surgery following an up-and-down season, and re-signed Nov. 24.
“Honestly, if you compare that to the Alan Lyszczarczyk series-clinching goal against Allen (in the semifinals last season), it reminds me of that and exactly what Szyd did – behind the back – and he’s got the vision and the game sense. He just knows where players are going to be. It was a very eerily similar goal where he made a blind pass and knew exactly where the guy was, and they both ended up being big goals for us.”
Szydlowski, 31, who has two goals and six points this season, agreed his assist was similar to the one against Allen en route to the Kelly Cup championship.
“I figured it would get that comparison, but it’s just being in the right spot,” Szydlowski said. “That’s why I like playing with guys like Grabes and (Kellen Jones); they’re smart players and they know how to get to the correct areas in the offensive zone. The easiest part about that sequence is that Grabes just opened his mouth and said something, so I knew where he was just from that. It makes the game a lot easier when you talk, that’s for sure.”
The night wasn’t all roses for Szydlowski, who took a tripping penalty 17:18 into the third period with his team having surrendered three consecutive goals and clinging to a one-goal lead. But the penalty kill came through and Jiri Patera polished off a magnificent game – he stopped 30 shots, including four on breakaways – and Graber added an empty-netter.
“Jiri stepped up at the right moments and you talk about timely saves,” said Boudreau, whose team had only the morning skate to prepare after six days off the ice for Christmas break.
“There was a lot of talk about post-Christmas, you’re off for a week and you’re eating with the family, you’re drinking, and we knew there was going to be rust. The first thing to go when you’re tired is your mind, so mentally we just tried to limit our mistakes.
“But you could tell there were those times when we made those mistakes and it just ended up hurting us on the backside. But we did enough to win tonight. We found a way and that’s what we had talked about in the room – finding a way to win tonight.”
The Komets (14-7-3) are 2-1-1 so far in their seven-game homestand, which continues 7:30 p.m. Monday against the Cincinnati Cyclones. The Komets also got goals Sunday from Matthew Barnaby, Matt Alvaro and Nick Jermain.
The Fuel (8-13-3) was paced by goals from Jan Mandát, Griff Jeszka, Keoni Texeira and Jared Thomas, while Michael Lackey stopped 29 shots.
Fort Wayne scored on 2 of 5 power plays. Indy was 2 for 4.
The Komets had a bevy of early opportunities to score – including Jones and Oliver Cooper getting thwarted by Lackey on chances from point-blank range – and Barnaby opened the scoring by flicking a shot just over the netminder from just below the right circle 4:27 into the first period.
Graber scored from the same spot at 9:56, after Szydlowski’s dazzling pass, and the Komets had 14 of the game’s first 17 shots on goal.
With the Komets’ Matt Murphy in the penalty box for holding – and he may have been fortunate that referee Jack Young didn’t award a penalty shot for the infraction – the Fuel’s Mandát scored from the left circle at 14:31.
Indy continued to pressure Fort Wayne, including a sequence in which Thomas slithered through a multitude of defenders, but Patera made the stop 2:27 into the second period.
Fort Wayne’s Alvaro increased the lead to 3-1 by getting to the rebound of a Graber shot and scoring from 30 feet out at 5:15, and the Komets’ Chays Ruddy fought the Fuel’s Christopher Cameron shortly thereafter.
The Komets goal goals on back-to-back shots by Szydlowski and Jermain, on a breakaway, just 27 seconds apart to make it 5-1 as they had a 24-12 shot advantage at 11:09. Indy’s Jeszka answered at 13:36, after a Seamus Malone no-look pass from behind the Fort Wayne net, and Texeira scored from the right circle at 16:54 to cut the lead to 5-3.
Indy got within one goal when Thomas finished off a give-and-go with Malone 11:09 into the third period.
Notes: With the NHL announcing it will return to having taxi squads, so more players are on hand in case of COVID-19 outbreaks, the Komets are bracing themselves to lose players. Those in the Vegas Golden Knights’ organization, such as Patera and defenseman Connor Corcoran, would probably be first in line to go if needed. Graber, who is on an American Hockey League contract, would also be a candidate to move up soon. … Despite fears that Fort Wayne players would return from the Christmas break having contracted COVID-19, none tested positive Sunday morning upon arrival. So the Komets played only without Connor Jones (wrist), Josh Owings (upper body), Bailey Conger (COVID-19) and third goalie Bailey Brkin. Remaining in the AHL were Matthew Boudens (Henderson), Blake Siebenaler (Ontario) and Drake Rymsha (Hershey). … Young is the son of former NHL goalie Wendell Young, who is the general manager of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.