Anthony Petruzzelli's first challenge as captain will be getting his team refocused after the ugliest loss of the season, 7-2 to the rival Toledo Walleye tonight in front of an announced crowd of 5,071 at Memorial Coliseum.
Despite getting 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 goaltending. And it all started when they gave up a goal just 8 seconds into the game by Keeghan Howdeshell, taking advantage of a Matt Murphy turnover.
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 12 of 14.
For Toledo (18-6-2), which increased its lead for first place in the division to three points over Fort Wayne and Cincinnati, Billy Christopoulos stopped 41 of 43 shots. He allowed a first-period short-handed goal to Matt Alvaro and a late goal to Petruzzelli.
Toledo’s Brett Boeing had a hat trick. Brandon Hawkins, the Komets’ MVP last season, had five assists and was plus-4. Howdeshell scored twice and the Walleye also got goals from Randy Gazzola and Cole Fraser.
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 of the AHL.
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.
The Komets next play 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cincinnati. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the Komets begin a home-and-home series with the Walleye.