FORT WAYNE – Ask any question you want, about the stark difference between the Komets at home and on the road, about the injuries, the earlier-than-usual 7 p.m. start time, the new pink-tinged jerseys, whatever.
There were no excuses from the Komets on Wednesday night after a 4-1 loss to the Kalamazoo Wings.
It was magnified by its significance – the Komets could have pulled into a tie with the Wings atop the North Division – but it would have been disheartening any night.
"Tonight it was just a poor effort, a poor effort in executing our game plan, poor effort in putting the gas pedal to the metal and altogether a very unsatisfying game for us," said defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin, who had the lone Fort Wayne goal as it dropped to 9-7-9 at Memorial Coliseum, so different than its 16-10-2 record on the road.
"That was just plain, flat-out embarrassing."
Sure, the Wings (30-17-5) are the hottest team in the ECHL, having gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. But the Komets are 6-3-1 in the same stretch, 14-6-6 in their last 26.
One thing the Komets must improve is their power play; they are 2 for 36 against the Wings this season. It didn't help that the Komets lost Jason Dale and Shawn Szydlowski for portions of the game. Dale had missed the previous 10 games with a groin injury and left in the second period with what coach Gary Graham called a lower body injury. Szydlowski was high-sticked by Brett Ponich in the third period – Ponich got a double-minor penalty – and was able to return after getting stitched up.
"When you're on a four-minute power play and two of your power-play guys are out and new guys are in, it's a chemistry thing and it was tough," Graham said. "We're not here to make excuses. All we're saying is we didn't have the chemistry at a big spot when we needed it."
Komets goaltender Ben Meisner stopped 19 of 22 shots, but he was foiled just 3:04 into the game by right wing Chris Lawrence's wrist shot from the left circle during a power play. After the Wings were scoreless in their first 27 power plays against the Komets this season, it was their fourth goal in seven opportunities with the man-advantage. They were 1 for 4 Wednesday.
"I know (our) team better than anyone I've seen. I know when they're good, when they're bad and when they're focused," Graham said.
"Right from the get-go, there was not enough life for this type of game. As a coach, you talk about the moment and we knew how big of a game it was. I just think we didn't take it seriously enough early on and it gave them all the confidence they needed."
Referee Pierre Lambert waved off a Wings goal midway through the first period because center Justin Taylor batted it in with a high stick. Taylor atoned by redirecting a Yannick Veilleux shot into the net for a 2-0 lead at 11:50 of the second period.
Danis-Pepin scored at 13:43 at the end of an odd-man rush, hitting the right goalpost and then swatting his own rebound past goaltender Jordan Binnington, who had 31 saves.
Five minutes later, Kalamazoo forward Nick Sirota skated in one-on-one against Jordon Southorn, smacked the stick out of the defenseman's hands and then slipped a backhand shot underneath Meisner.
At 9:04, Fort Wayne's William Lacasse fought Veilleux, who later got an empty-net goal.
Note: A crowd of 6,293 attended the game the first of two "Pink the Rink" nights. The Komets donned special jerseys, which are being auctioned off to benefit the Vera Bradley Foundation and its fight against breast cancer. The Komets and Vera Bradley raised more than $30,000 in the first two years of their partnership.