Thirteen games into the season, Komets coach Gary Graham performed a mini-teardown on his hockey team this week, calling out his players by name and first benching his team captain, defenseman Nick Tuzzolino, and then dealing him to Elmira (N.Y.).
Now comes the rebuild. And judging from Thursday, that part of it will come bit by bit.
In their 53rd Thanksgiving night home game, the Komets rode solid special teams, control of the neutral zone and magician’s work in goal from Andrey Makarov to a lead after two periods, and then watched it slide through their fingers in a 3-1 loss to the Florida Everblades.
A goal credited to Kellen Tochkin tied it at 1 at the 5:19 mark of the third.
Then, with 1:52 to play, Olivier Dame-Malka scored the goal-ahead goal for the Everblades, who are now 10-2 on the road. Trevor Bruess added an empty-net goal 49 seconds.
The outcome, and the fact that the Komets missed the net on a bushel of point-blank chances, left everyone shaking their heads.
We had enough scoring chances tonight, we just didn’t bury ’em, said Komets coach Gary Graham, whose team heads to Kalamazoo tonight to face former Komet Colin Chaulk, a Wings assistant, for the first time. I mean, we had some Grade A scoring chances.
Against a good team like Florida, you can’t expect to win a game 1-0. It’s just not gonna happen. I think they’re the highest scoring team in the league We played a good enough defensive game tonight to win this game, it’s just tough to play that well without the puck and not bury it when we had our chances.
Jace Coyle scored the Komets’ only goal on a power play, scything the puck past Everblades goalie Kristers Gudlevskis from just inside the blue line at the 7:42 mark of the first period.
It was the culmination of a rousing first eight minutes in which the Komets, getting the better of play in the neutral zone, repeatedly caught the Everblades up ice – most notably when Brandon Marino broke in alone down the left wing on a 2-on-1, but couldn’t put the puck behind Gudlevskis.
It was a foreshadowing of what kind of night it would be, although for a long time it belonged to Makarov and the Komets penalty kill.
The penalty kill throttled four Everblades power plays in the second period, including 1:39 of two-man. And Makarov did magician’s work in the net, robbing Matthew Pistilli on a breakaway with a breathtaking matador save and slamming the back door on Kyle Bonis by materializing out of nowhere to deny him on the far post.
But then a cross-goalmouth pass ricocheted off a Komets defenseman and inside the post to Makarov’s left, after the Komets had missed two golden opportunities to put up a cushion.
A bit more than 12 minutes later, Dame-Malka whistled a low screened shot past Makarov to unknot the tie, and that was that.
We played a good 40 minutes, winger Mike Vaskivuo said. Comes down to the last five minutes of a game, you’ve gotta know what you have to do to win.
It’s a learning curve, but we’ve been through this situation enough already this season. It’s really time to buckle down and get those wins or give ourselves a chance to win.
Notes: Bret Lyon, who left the Komets earlier this week in a disagreement over his role with the team, signed with the Utica Comets of the AHL defenseman Nik Pokuluk was the only scratch from the lineup, while the Komets’ newest acquisition – defenseman Jordon Southorn, acquired in the Nick Tuzzolino deal – was in the starting lineup.