Anthony Petruzzelli was, without forewarning, unveiled as the Komets’ new captain just before Wednesday night’s game. His first big challenge will be getting his team refocused after the ugliest loss of the season, 7-2 to the rival Toledo Walleye in front of an announced crowd of 5,071 at Memorial Coliseum.
“It’s all about the mental preparation,” said Petruzzelli, when asked how the Komets will try avoid a repeat Friday at Cincinnati. “It starts the day before and we’ll get back at it at practice, talk about a few things and get back on the ice and practice a few other things. Hopefully we get back to it and we’re following our systems, and we’ll be a lot more ready to go Friday.”
Despite having just gotten back two of their best players from the higher-level American Hockey League – Stephen Harper and Blake Siebenaler – the Komets were haunted by turnovers, missed offensive opportunities and poor goaltending.
“It was a lazy, ugly, non-committed group out there tonight,” Boudreau said, succinctly.
And it all started when Fort Wayne gave up a goal, just 8 seconds into the game, by Keeghan Howdeshell. He took advantage of a Matt Murphy turnover onto the stick of Brandon Hawkins, snapping a shot in from the right circle.
“I just think we weren’t ready to go,” Petruzzelli said. “Off the drop of the puck, it was pretty evident. Defensively, overall and as a team, we didn’t manage the puck very well and that hurt us tremendously against a Toledo team that likes to score off the rush like that.”
Bailey Brkin stopped 15 of 20 shots for Fort Wayne (16-8-3) before he was replaced, 12:24 into the second period, by Tommy Proudlock, who turned away 13 of 15.
“The goaltending wasn’t what we needed tonight, but it wasn’t all on (Brkin),” said Boudreau, whose Komets had been on a 6-1-1 run, including a 14-save Brkin shutout in the previous game, a 1-0 victory Friday over the Iowa Heartlanders at the Coliseum.
Toledo (18-6-2), which is on a 5-0-1 surge, increased its lead for first place in the division to three points over Fort Wayne and Cincinnati. Billy Christopoulos stopped 41 of 43 shots, allowing a first-period short-handed goal to Matt Alvaro and a late goal to Petruzzelli off a rebound.
Fort Wayne outshot Toledo 21-12 in a much-improved third period, but both teams netted a goal.
Toledo’s Brett Boeing had a hat trick. Brandon Hawkins, the Komets’ MVP last season, had five assists – tying a Walleye record – and was plus-4. Howdeshell scored twice and the Walleye also got goals from Randy Gazzola and Cole Fraser.
Matthew Boudens had been selected the Komets’ captain prior to the season opener Oct. 23, but he was called to the AHL’s Henderson Silver Knights on Nov. 18 and has been gone 18 straight games. He has four assists in 10 games for the Silver Knights and it’s unknown if he’ll return.
“If you look at the scope of the way things are going in the American Hockey League, it’s tough to expect him back anytime soon,” Boudreau said, referencing the injuries in the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights’ system and the way the COVID-19 pandemic has led to mass call-ups from the ECHL.
Who would wear the ‘C’ if Boudens returns to the Komets? “We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” Boudreau said.
Petruzzelli, who is in his fifth season with the Komets, has never missed a game due to injury – a streak of 239 games, including the playoffs.
It’s not known if Howdeshell’s opening goal was a record for quickest goal scored by a Fort Wayne opponent, though the Komets’ Jim Hrycuik scored 6 seconds into a 1973 victory over Des Moines. Howdeshell’s goal did tie a Walleye record for fastest goal.
It was also at least the 10th time over the last two seasons, including three this season, in which the Komets allowed a goal on the first opposing shot.
Alvaro answered with a short-handed goal at 12:21 off the rebound of a shot by Siebenaler, who had skated 100 feet and circumvented three defenders in his first game back from Ontario.
The Walleye answered on the next shot, at 14:05, when Boeing sent the puck from the left circle through Brkin’s legs. Brkin thwarted a Howdeshell breakaway at 17:35, but he was defenseless as the puck hopped to a wide-open Gazzola for a goal from 15 feet out for a 3-1 lead at 19:57.
Howdeshell polished off a 2-on-1 rush to make it 4-1 at 6:22 of the second period.
After Friday’s game at Cincinnati, the Komets begin a home-and-home series with the Walleye at the Coliseum on Saturday.
Notes: The referee was Casey Terreri. … The Komets were without Tyler Busch, at least the 10th Fort Wayne player to test positive this season for COVID-19. They have also had at least three staff members test positive. … The Komets also played without Shawn Szydlowski (charley horse), D.J. King (leg) and Bailey Conger.