FORT WAYNE – The toughest thing about the first game of the Komets’ season wasn’t that they lost – 4-3 to the Toledo Walleye in an overtime shootout Saturday night – but that they have to wait a week to get some redemption.
While there has been, and will be, much analyzing of coach Gary Graham’s first game, it was only one of 72.
Nothing is won or lost in the first game of the year, he said.
The positives were easy to see: Mickey Lang had two goals in regulation and one in the shootout; John Muse stopped 18 of 21 shots and 3 of 5 shootout attempts; Jeremy Gates had a fight with Stephon Thorne; and the Komets came back in the third period to earn a point in the standings.
And this was with a roster that had only six players back from last season.
The way we battled to get that point, there’s a lot of character in that locker room, Graham said.
But what did the Komets come away needing to work on in practice before the Cincinnati Cyclones visit Memorial Coliseum on Saturday?
The biggest thing is getting traffic in front of the opposing net.
There are a couple adjustments we can make, Graham said of the offense, which generated 35 shots on Toledo goalie Mac Carruth. Instead of just shooting at the net, we need to shoot for sticks in the slot and for some redirections and things like that. That’s something we’re going to work on because you can see, offensively, we’re able to work the puck, corner to corner, low to high, and that’s why we have these speedy forwards. But we need to do a better job of creating opportunities through the box.
The Komets also need to keep opposing players out from in front of their own net.
We just didn’t do a good job of pursuing on our neutral zone check, said Graham, noting that a third-period defensive breakdown allowed Travis Novak to score for a 3-2 Walleye lead. We have to keep teams to the outside and not allow access inside the dots. We did a good job most of the night on that.
It did help that Muse showed his excellence at handling the puck and a willingness to shove opposing forwards out of the crease.
He’s like a third defenseman back there, Graham said. It really helps because under heavy forecheck pressure, that’s a defenseman’s best friend.
The Komets also want to limit their penalties – both teams were 1 for 6 on the power play – and watch turnovers in front of the net, which led to a Toledo goal by Trevor Parkes.
But it was a good first showing for the new regime.
There were a lot of things you want to see early in the season (and) we got a chance to see them, Graham said.