Shawn Szydlowski had sat out three straight games. And even though coach Ben Boudreau hasn't elaborated on the exact reasons for the move last weekend, it's clear he was trying to send a message to the team's longtime star.
It seems to have worked.
Szydlowski scored a goal Friday night – putting the Komets ahead to stay – and added an assist in a 5-2 victory over the Wheeling Nailers.
“I'm happy for him. It's great to see a response. That's a typical Shawn Szydlowski performance,” Boudreau said. “I thought he was great all night. I thought he could have had back-to-back goals on back-to-back shifts there. When you have a motivated Shawn Szydlowski, he's a dangerous player.”
Alan Lyszczarczyk had a goal and an assist in his return to Memorial Coliseum. Justin Vaive had a goal and two assists. And Robbie Beydoun stopped 16 of 18 shots for Fort Wayne (19-8-4), which improved to 9-2-3 against league-worst Wheeling (16-25-6).
“It was definitely tough last week, more in the case that it was a little crisis of character,” said Szydlowski, who explained he wasn't reacting well to his lack of production this season. “Sometimes you don't notice what you're putting out there, and I just was more sorry toward my teammates that it was that noticeable at some points, my frustration. At the end of the day, it wasn't about anyone on the team, it was about myself and the way I was playing obviously.
“I needed it. It was tough to watch, obviously, when your team is winning and having fun without you, but it was great to be back tonight. Just the way the guys are supportive, it's awesome.”
Szydlowski has three goals and 19 points in 23 games this season.
The Komets are two games into a six-game stretch against the Nailers, who defeated Fort Wayne 5-3 in West Virginia on Sunday. Since then, the Komets' leading scorer, Brandon Hawkins, was called up to Rochester of the American Hockey League; Fort Wayne reacquired Lyszczarczyk from Tulsa for Curtis Leonard and dealt Nolan LaPorte to Greenville for cash; the Nailers' head coach, Mark French, resigned to spend more time with his family; and Derek Army was elevated to interim head coach.
Jackson Leef gave the Komets a 1-0 lead at 8:28 of the first period, when he succeeded on a 20-foot shot after Stephen Harper set him up with a no-look pass from behind the net.
The second period was dominated by goaltending early: Wheeling's Shane Starrett, who totaled 36 saves, foiled Anthony Nellis from point-blank range at 2:17; and Beydoun gloved a Joshua Winquist shot at the end of a breakaway at 5:12.
Beydoun, a rookie out of Wisconsin, was in his first game since stopping all 29 shots he faced in a 4-0 road victory April 17 over Indy. His shutout streak reached 91:51 and 38 shots before Wheeling's Jesse Lees beat him from 42 feet out at 11:51.
Szydlowski answered off a rebound for a 2-1 lead during a power play at 12:24, with Lyszczarczyk getting an assist, and Oliver Cooper netted his first professional goal on the next shot, redirecting a Matt Murphy blue-line attempt for a 3-1 lead at 13:21.
Notes: The Vegas Golden Knights assigned defenseman Connor Corcoran and forward Mason Primeau to the Komets. Corcoran, 20, was a fifth-round Vegas draft pick in 2018. A rookie, he'd played two games in the American Hockey League with the Henderson Silver Knights this season. Primeau, a fifth-round pick in 2019, is a rookie who had two assists in seven games with Henderson. He's the son of longtime NHL player Wayne Primeau and the nephew of Keith Primeau. They could play tonight.