The storyline was familiar. The Komets coughed up a lead and lost 5-4 to the Wheeling Nailers thanks to Mike Ratchuk’s goal with 19 seconds left in overtime at Memorial Coliseum.
But the aftermath Saturday night was a little more interesting.
Komets coach Gary Graham put several star players on notice that they have one game – today at Evansville – to prove that they deserve to stay with the Komets, who have led in 11 of 13 games yet are only 5-6-2.
If they don’t show improvement against the IceMen, changes will be made swiftly.
It’s time to name names, Graham said. Mike Vaskivuo and Mickey Lang are just playing awful, turning the puck over everywhere. They will not buy in, won’t work on the defensive side of the puck. Nick Tuzzolino and Jace Coyle were awful, absolutely awful.
The Komets had a three-goal lead thanks to Nik Pokulok’s 20-foot shot at 14:46 of the first period, Lang’s breakaway at 15:15 and Lang’s one-timer during a 5-on-3 power play at 8:46 of the second period.
The Nailers (7-5-2) fought back with goals from Max MacKay at 17:09, Ratchuk at 19:10 and Anton Zlobin at 4:44 of the third period.
Tuzzolino scored his first goal of the season on a 50-footer for a 4-3 lead at 14:05, but Carter Rowney fought through a scrum in front of the net to force overtime at 19:27.
The mental weakness on our bench is palpable. It’s a major problem, a big problem, and it’s not going to be tolerated, Graham said. These guys have a chance to go to Evansville and show something. I hope they do. But the leash is extremely short right now.
Of the players Graham scolded, Lang and Tuzzolino are the most interesting. Lang leads the Komets in goals (10) and points (18). Tuzzolino, the Komets’ captain, is a team-worst minus-17.
He’s playing like the seventh defenseman right now, Graham said.
Cody Reichard stopped 29 shots for Fort Wayne. Mike Condon stopped 31 for Wheeling, which has won both meetings this season.
There were three fights early in the first period: Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock vs. Pat McGrath, William Lacasse vs. Harrison Ruopp and Tuzzolino vs. Ryan Flanigan.
The worst part is the finger pointing. Nobody wants to look in the mirror. We’re just playing awful, said Graham, in his first season as the Komets’ coach. I feel bad for Reichard and the 12 to 14 guys who actually checked in to play tonight. I feel bad for our fans, who had to witness that.
But Graham said there are plenty of players he can get if he needs to make changes.
I’ve got irons in the fire everywhere, that’s for sure, he said.