The best way I can sum up the Komets vs. Toledo match-up right now is this: Toledo is more disciplined and less predictable.
In terms of discipline, I don’t just mean in taking penalties, though that’s part of it. The Komets are turning the puck over (though that was better Friday), telegraphing passes and failing to get the proper defensive plays made near their own net.
“This series has not changed much. You see the two goals in the second period and what was it? Net-front defense. You can talk about it until you’re blue in the face,” Komets coach Gary Graham said after the Komets lost 5-1 on Friday night to the Walleye.
(Video highlights are above.)
Toledo leads the best-of-7 Central Division semifinals 3-1 and can advance by winning tonight at the Huntington Center.
Becoming a less predictable team would help Fort Wayne. Its offense, which had looked to be its biggest strength heading into this series, has totaled only five goals, and that includes the 2-1 overtime victory at Memorial Coliseum in Game 3.
“We’re a team that really rides on confidence and trying to feel good about ourselves,” Graham said. “When it doesn’t happen, that’s when we really (sag). This team, there’s a certain dynamic at play that you can’t see from the stands and can’t see from the external, but it’s on the bench and you feel it. Unfortunately, when you’re not getting calls and you start getting frustrated, it’s a cancer that festers through the bench.”
For all their ups and downs throughout this season, the Komets have continued to show resiliency. I asked Graham if that gave him some confidence heading into Game 5 and he said: “What do you want me to do? Keep selling optimism here? It just wasn’t good enough (Friday) and the guys have to find a way to be better than that. We had a lot of no-shows again tonight and it’s frustrating to see. As soon as it happens, a lot of guys start playing as individuals with this group.”
He promised lineup changes for Game 5. I imagine that means we’ll see Mason Baptista and Chase Stewart inserted.
Whoever plays, they need to improve the Fort Wayne power play which is 1 for 17 in the series.
“We’ve been working on (our power play) a lot, but it’s just not connecting,” forward Marco Roy said. “We have our plays, we know what to do, but it’s just not going in or we don’t execute some stuff. … We need more of a net presence or to shoot more, there’s something that’s not clicking right now and it’s frustrating because that’s a big part of a series.
“It’s not like we don’t want to score on the power play. It’s just I think we have to work harder. Tomorrow, we have to be perfect pretty much.”
Toledo coach Dan Watson said of his penalty killers: “Guys are willing to block shots and get in lanes. They have great shooters but our guys are just getting in the way.”
The Komets got on the bus to travel to Toledo late Friday night and that was a smart move. You can always tell teams that are eager for the season to end in the first few minutes of an elimination game; being in enemy territory all day may help them get the mindset going.
“We’ve got to go there with urgency as a team to play better than them. We’re down 3-1 but it’s not done. If we go there, steal one, then we can get this back home,” Roy said.
“If guys can’t get pumped about the game tomorrow, then there’s a problem in the room. We all play for this. It’s playoff time. Every individual, every guy on the team, has to get the inside of themselves, their hearts, going. … We all have to come positive and play hard tomorrow. It’s either go home or keep playing.”
The Walleye doesn't seem to be expecting an easy night.
“It's not a series until someone is able to win on the road and we did that tonight. So we're excited. But the job isn't even close to being done. We'll take it one shift at a time," Watson said.
“The toughest thing to do in sports is to end a team's season. We've been through this enough to know how hard it is."