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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Trevor Cheek delivered a power-play goal Wednesday against Wichita. The Komets' power play has struggled in recent games.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Komets forward Shawn Szydlowski leads the ECHL in scoring with 56 points, including 4 goals on power plays.  

Friday, February 09, 2018 1:00 am

Komets' power-play change pays dividend

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Komets vs. Wichita

When: 8 p.m. today

Where: Memorial Coliseum

at Quad City

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: TaxSlayer Center, Moline, Ill.

vs. Quad City

When: 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Memorial Coliseum

The Komets are unquestionably the hottest team of the ECHL's 27 teams right now, thanks to nine victories in their last 10 games, a stretch that has seen them outscore their opponents 56-31.

Not much has been easy about this run, though. Six of the games were away from Memorial Coliseum. Three were played with only five defensemen. Absent have been stars such as Artur Tyanulin, Ryan Culkin and Daniel Maggio because of call-ups to Tucson of the American Hockey League.

And seven of the 10 games were played against teams that have winning percentages of at least .563.

But there has been a chink in the Komets' armor, and that has been the power play.

The Komets (30-13-2) scored on only 6 of 36 opportunities over their last 10 games, a stretch so woeful that their power play now ranks 14th for the season at 17.3 percent efficiency.

“We all know it hasn't been good,” coach Gary Graham said. “It's on us coaches to get the guys into good spots for success, and it's on the players to execute.”

The Komets hope, however, that they have solved the problem. In the midst of Wednesday's 9-3 bombardment of the Wichita Thunder at the Coliseum was a crucial power-play goal by Trevor Cheek.

The man-advantage was set up when Wichita's Dyson Stevenson high-sticked captain Jamie Schaafsma, who was playing defense for a third straight game but should move back to center now that Culkin has returned Thursday from Tucson. On the ensuing power play, Bobby Shea got control of the puck at the blue line, skated toward the right boards and centered the puck to Cheek, who snapped a shot from the right circle for a 3-2 lead. That was the second of eight straight Fort Wayne goals.

“The whole power play was clicking, and it was good to see that,” said Cheek, after the Komets were 1 for 3 on power plays. They were 1 for 19 in the previous six games.

While Graham hasn't been able to let his line combinations jell much this season, there has always been too much offensive talent for a subpar power play. On Wednesday, a change in the formation paid off.

“The power play, (assistant coach Ben Boudreau) and those guys, have been working really hard to try and get that going, and it's been frustrating,” Graham said. “We know that we have some talent offensively, but we just haven't been jibing well. We've worked on it here a couple days. And the players have been putting in the work in the video room and on the ice. To see them finally punch one through for us in a tight game was huge for us because, frankly, (the power play) hasn't been very good.”

Marco Roy leads the Komets with five power-play goals. Shawn Szydlowski, who leads the ECHL in scoring with 56 points, has four power-play goals.

Heading into today's 8 p.m. game against Wichita (25-17-3) at that Coliseum, Culkin leads the Komets in power-play points with three goals and nine assists.

“We've just worked on (the power play) really hard this week. We've just beared down,” Cheek said. “We have (penalty kill) guys in practice who really try very hard to shut us down, and we have to outwork them in practice. They push us to get better and it carries us into games.”

jcohn@jg.net