WICHITA, Kan. – Not often in the Komets’ 60-year-history – if ever – has a line spent as much time behind the opposing team’s goal as Colin Chaulk, Mike Vaskivuo and Chris Auger. Wraparound goals, passes for one-timers in front, back-and-forth dekes that make the goalies’ necks hurt. Those have been the types of plays we’ve come to know from the Komets’ top line.
And in the playoffs, it has totaled 20 goals and 52 points in 15 games, including back-to-back wins in Wichita that gave the Komets a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven President’s Cup finals over the Thunder.
But there is a downside to setting up shop behind the net, and that’s if you overcommit, you can get trapped back there, lose the puck and make it easier for the other team to score at the other end.
You’ve got to have some strategy to it, or it’s going to mess you up, said Chaulk, whose three goals and 14 points are modest compared with the numbers of his linemates.
Auger has nine goals and 19 points. Vaskivuo, who has become the quarterback of plays from behind the goaltender, has eight goals and 19 points. (The CHL determined Monday that the final goal in the 6-3 victory in Game 2 belonged to Vaskivuo instead of Auger.)
Combined, the three players have six of Fort Wayne’s 10 game-winning goals in the playoffs. But there have been times the line’s M.O. has backfired.
In Game 1 of this series, Vaskivuo came out from the goal line to take a shot, had it blocked and it set off an odd-man rush and a Thomas Beauregard goal that tied it at 3. Auger answered with a shot from the right circle in the third and the Komets won 5-3.
A couple times, we have tried to jam things up and force it too early, Chaulk said. When that happens, it’s like they blocked a shot and it starts transition for them and they’re going the other way.
Chaulk said the key to being successful with playing behind the net is to know when to go there and not get caught with having everyone too close together. Sometimes, you have to resist the urge to go back there and assist a teammate who is battling for possession with multiple defenders.
We need to have better spacing. Chaulk said. We can’t jam up three guys because if we do, we’ll get trapped and once they smack the puck out, it results in an odd-man rush. We need to trust each other and allow the one-on-one battle to happen. Once you do that and create good spacing, then you can make some plays behind the net or cycle or get the third man high, do all sorts of things. But you can’t try to jam the puck at the net when they’ve got numbers there; you have to be patient.
Especially since the Thunder’s prowess comes in the transition game, with the team jumping on any turnovers from the Komets. But heading home to Memorial Coliseum, the scene of Games 3, 4 and 5, starting Thursday night, the Komets will have more room to play down low.
The back of the nets (at Intrust Bank Arena) seem more like an oval shape, kind of like Missouri, Chaulk said. It seems a little smaller than our building. If you look at video, the back of the net seems like an Olympic-size surface in our building.
The Komets have a chance to hoist the Cup in their own building if they can maintain that patience.