The Komets are off to a 2-0-0 start, including a 7-3 victory over the Wheeling Nailers tonight at Memorial Coliseum that saw them score four goals on their first seven shots.
A.J. Jenks scored twice, Brett McKenzie had two assists and a fight, and Cole Kehler stopped 23 shots to give him 64 saves on 69 shots this season. (Video highlights are above.)
“We’re coming together as a team and that’s the biggest thing,” coach Ben Boudreau said. “Everybody is stepping up at the right moments. You’ve got guys sacrificing their bodies. It’s a 7-3 hockey game and you’ve got Brady Shaw laying his body on the line to block a shot with 47 seconds left. It’s a complete and total buy-in. … Everybody is playing for the front of the jersey and that’s really encouraging to see.”
On Saturday night, the Komets play host to the Toledo Walleye (1-0-0) and that will be their truest test so far.
“Just another game, got to win on home ice,” said Jenks, who spent the last five seasons with the Walleye.
As impressive as the Komets’ season-opening 5-2 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings had been – they got a Brycen Martin goal just 18 seconds into that Oct. 12 game – the beginning to tonight’s game put it to shame.
This time, it took two shots and 51 seconds for the puck to carom off Shaw’s leg and into the net, after McKenzie spun and fired blindly from the right boards. Fort Wayne took a 2-0 lead when a McKenzie pass set up Shawn St-Amant alone in the slot, where he whipped the puck into the top of the net at 3:08.
The onslaught continued with Alan Lyszczarczyk redirecting a Max Gottlieb shot into the top of the net at 3:33, giving Lyszczarczyk two goals in as many games. And Mason Bergh stole the puck behind the Wheeling net, then sent a blind backhand pass to Anthony Petruzzelli, who swatted it in for a 4-0 lead at 5:06.
Wheeling’s Alex D’Orio, who also gave up the two Jenks goals and one from Chase Stewart, stopped 23 of 30 shots before he was replaced by Jordan Ruby in the third period.
“I’d say we definitely improved (over the opener), but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Jenks said. “There are still things we have to tighten up and whatnot, but we’re going to keep working on it.”
It sounds as if Shawn Szydlowski will be available Saturday after he sat out the third period. According to Boudreau, Szydlowski was in a pregame car accident and was sore. No one felt they needed to push it with a five-goal lead.
The Komets’ special teams have been noteworthy. The power play, which was 1 for 5 tonight, is 3 for 9 this season. The penalty kill, which was 1 for 2 tonight, has killed 7 of 8 this season. And Fort Wayne has a short-handed goal.
But the biggest thing has, obviously, been the electric starts to the games.
“It’s just a matter of having everybody on the same page,” Jenks said. “Everybody is ready to go. Everybody is dialed in from practicing. And the guys are hungry, the guys want it, the guys are trying to prove themselves. We’re a young, hungry team. That’s pushing the older guys and it’s a good recipe right now.”
Boudreau credited Jason Binkley, Shaw, Jenks and Szydlowski for making sure everyone is ready to go from the drop of the puck.
“These guys are unbelievable in the room. These guys have really taken on this ownership and know we have a youth movement going on,” Boudreau said. “They’ve taken it on their shoulders to reiterate the message from the coaches. It’s just an extension of the coaching staff in there. I don’t have to worry about what’s being said in the locker room.”
It was clear tonight how much McKenzie, in his first game since returning from Chicago of the American Hockey League, will add. It wasn’t just the assists but also his fight with Jake Schultz, who hit Shaw in the face just after a faceoff.
“We played as a team,” Boudreau said. “Brett McKenzie has been here, I think, 17 minutes since the start of training camp and he didn’t even hesitate. He went right after it, (following) a dirty hit by Schultz, defending his teammate.”
Some of the play in the defensive zone is a work in progress, though, and that will surely be tested by the Walleye, which was idle tonight.
“We’re still learning our tendencies,” Boudreau said. “There were a couple plays in front of our net (that needed work) and that’s something we talked about – having stronger net-front defense. As a young group, we’re still going to try and learn and get better and clean up.
"We’re never going to play a perfect game, but our start was there. We had talked about starting on time, making sure we’re ready to go from the drop of the puck. That’s two games in a row we’ve jumped all over the opposition.”