The Komets would normally be readying for their playoff opener this week. But, because of the pandemic, they are preparing for Game 24 of their truncated, 50-game regular season.
“The weather is starting to get real nice here in Fort Wayne,” forward Matthew Boudens said. “It's definitely nice coming out of the rink with the sun shining, and this is where the fun starts here and the real hockey kicks in here.”
The Komets (14-6-3) lead the Western Conference and are second among the ECHL's 14 competing teams, with a .674 winning percentage (Florida is first at 31-11-2, .727). But the Komets have split their last four games, needing third-period rallies to get the two victories, and they're emphasizing the old hockey cliché: Make sure you play all 60 minutes.
Saturday's game at Memorial Coliseum epitomized the problem; the Komets let down at times, got too aggressive offensively at others, and it led to defensive breakdowns, myriad odd-man rushes against and a 6-3 loss to the Wheeling Nailers.
“Just the full 60 minutes, I think that's kind of been our downfall all year,” Boudens said. “We'll have a few minutes of lapses throughout the game, when we're not sticking to our systems, kind of playing toward the house. It's cost us. I think when we figure out that it's going to take all 60, and can't have those lapses, we're going to be a scary team.”
Some might argue they already are, propelled by a second-ranked offense (3.39 goals per game), a No. 3 defense (2.61 goals against per game), the No. 1 power play (28.1%) and the top penalty kill (87.8%).
The Komets are 5-5-0 over their last 10 games and want to put a stop to that mediocrity starting at 7:10 p.m. today, when they play at league-worst Wheeling (13-23-5), before facing the Indy Fuel (25-14-3) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We have played quite a bit of hockey over the last few weeks,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “And it is almost the midway point of the season. So there's going to be a focus on making sure our minds and bodies are ready to go for the four (games) in five (nights) and (four) consecutive weekends with back-to-back-to-back games. There are a lot of areas that we just to reemphasize and play to our strengths. When we get away from them, we get in trouble.”
The Komets will likely be without goaltender Dylan Ferguson (neck/head), leaving Jeremy Helvig or Louis-Philip Guindon between the pipes tonight. Wheeling's Joshua Winquist, who elbowed Ferguson behind the play Saturday, was suspended two games by the ECHL and won't be available.
While the Komets have had players on impressive tears – Brandon Hawkins has nine goals and 13 points in his last eight games; A.J. Jenks has three goals and 10 points in his last six; and Randy Gazzola has one goal and nine points in his last seven – they have gotten goals from more unlikely figures such as Mathieu Brodeur, Nick Boka and Blake Siebenaler in the last week.
That's something on which they hope to build, but not at the sacrifice of defense.
“Everyone wants to provide offense,” Boudens said. “It wasn't for a lack of effort with those guy (not scoring much before). I think we've all been fighting it a bit at times. That's what happens. You've just got to work through it, ... and hopefully the puck starts rolling the right way here now.”
When: 7:10 p.m. today
Where: WesBanco Arena, Wheeling, W.Va.
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM