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The Journal Gazette

  • Whiteshark Photography Komets forward Taylor Crunk, left, and the Indy Fuel's Matt Rupert, right, chase the puck Friday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. 

  • Whiteshark Photography Komets forward Ryan Siiro, right, and Indy Fuel defenseman Robert Powers battle for the puck Friday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. 

Friday, January 25, 2019 11:30 pm

K's need to show blue collars

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Sometimes I write that the Komets need to play a more physical game and I believe it’s misinterpreted. Tonight would be a great example. The Komets didn’t need to fight or goon it up, though there are certainly times I think they need to at least go out there and lay a big check to fire up the bench.

But when I say they need to play physically, especially on a night like tonight, when they lost 5-0 to the Indy Fuel at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, I mean they have to play a grittier, blue-collar game. They need to grind away in the corners, get a forecheck going, stop looking for pretty plays, make life difficult for the other team.

They have players who can do that, even if they are missing some of their top skill players, namely Justin Hodgman and Jake Kamrass.

Don’t mistake me; I actually think the path to long-term success with this team is through speed and dynamic playmaking. Like it or not, those are the players they have and you’ve got to ride with it for the most part.

But right now, as the Komets are short-handed and battling for third place in the division (and this is sad, because they had a window to creep into second but have basically wasted it), they need to be playing grittier.

Tonight, as it was last weekend, I saw a lot of shooters, but no passers. I saw no hitting. I saw very little forechecking.

When I asked coach Gary Graham if this was the performance he wanted to see after the all-star break, his response was: “Aren’t we still on the break? I think we are. … That’s exactly how I feel.”

I’m almost surprised he didn’t pull a Herb Brooks and get them back out on the ice after this game. It was that bad. And, yes, management was here. And, yes, it didn’t look happy.

I asked captain Jamie Schaafsma about changing the way they play, and he seemed to be at least somewhat in agreement with me, though he emphasized more the need for other players to step up than changing the way the Komets have played to this point.

“We definitely have a different lineup right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have to grind out wins. If you’re going to be going into the playoffs, injuries are going to happen to your top guys. We need other guys to step up and play a bigger role. It seems like we failed to do that,” Schaafsma said.

“We’re really struggling to break pucks out of our zone and really gain some puck time in the offensive zone. We need pressure. If we’re always the ones playing on our heels and always the ones chasing, it’s going to be a struggle for us to win every night. We can’t make excuses because guys are out of the lineup. We’ve just got to look at each other and find ways to win here.”

Some other things:

-- Indy’s Matt Tomkins stopped 30 shots for the shutout.

-- The Komets hadn’t been shut out since Toledo’s Jeff Lerg stopped 23 shots in a 5-0 victory to send them from the 2017 playoffs. The last time they were held scoreless in the regular season had been March 19, 2017, when Zach Fucale stopped 30 shots in a 1-0 Brampton victory.

-- This was Indy’s first shutout victory since Jan. 27, 2017, when Jake Hildebrand stopped 45 shots in 2-0 victory over Rapid City.

-- Lukas Hafner stopped 14 of 18 shots for the Komets. I’m surprised Graham pulled him because he had some good saves and the one thing the Komets have done this season is make third-period comebacks. Eric Levine stopped 4 of 5 shots.

-- There were some changes to the scoresheet late tonight; the third period Indy goal was changed from Mathew Thompson to Josh Shalla.

-- Fort Wayne had a power-play unit of Schaafsma, Taylor Crunk, Anthony Petruzzelli, Shawn Szydlowski (on the point) and Oskari Halme. I like the thinking as that would generate some traffic, theoretically.

jcohn@jg.net