FORT WAYNE – The Komets may have found their goaltender. And they may have found a shootout ace.
As they as battle to get into the playoffs, they certainly need both.
In just his second professional game, Matt Grogan stopped 30 shots and all five shootout attempts by the Kalamazoo Wings in a 4-3 victory Saturday, cemented when defenseman William Lacasse netted the only shootout goal in the fifth and final round.
Skating down the right side, Lacasse faked goalie Jordan Binnington to the ice while maintaining possession of a wobbly puck, then slipped it just inside the goal post to the delight of the 8,279 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
The Komets snapped a four-game losing streak against Kalamazoo and took over sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference – the top eight will make the playoffs – with nine games left in the regular season.
So far this year, when we have shootouts for fun in practice, I usually do pretty good, Lacasse said.
I was kind of surprised I got called to go, though, because we have a lot of skill on our team. I just did the same move I usually do in practice, which has worked.
The Komets had lost 5 of 6 shootouts, but Lacasse had never gotten an opportunity.
Will Lacasse is a guy, he’s a sleeper. I should shoot him more, Komets coach Gary Graham said. We’ve had a lot of shootout losses, but I’m telling you, we practice them. I promise you that. And Will is always one of the best guys in the two-puck shootout game we play. Just a big, big goal.
Days ago, the Komets were without a goalie, but Grogan has quickly become a sensation with the fans.
Andrey Makarov was called up to Rochester of the American Hockey League on Monday. And on Wednesday, Ben Meisner collapsed in the midst of a 5-4 loss to the Orlando Solar Bears because of an accelerated heartbeat and dizziness, and was replaced by emergency goalie Larkin Saalfrank, who has played in two pro games.
Meisner has been cleared by doctors, but the Komets are being patient. On Friday the Komets signed Grogan, who had been at the University of Connecticut, and Kevin Murdock, who had been a Lake Superior State. Grogan was impressive in Friday night’s 2-1 victory over Gwinnett, stopping 23 of 24 shots, but he took himself out in the third period because of muscle cramps.
The team has been playing great. We’ve outshot the opposition both games and they’re making it easy. There were some huge shot blocks at the end of the game. And we got the big shootout goal. It’s been exciting to be a part of, said Grogan, who played junior hockey for Graham with the Indiana Ice’s AAA team in 2005-06.
The Komets (30-22-11) and Wings (38-19-6) each scored twice in the first period – Scott Fleming and Kenton Miller for Fort Wayne, Joe Sova and Chris Lawrence for Kalamazoo – before it became a goaltending show.
Binnington had the best save, when he slid to his right at the end of a second-period 2-on-1 rush to foil forward Mike Embach, who had six goals in the previous four games.
Former Komets forward Matt Firman netted a wrist shot from the right circle at 9:59 of the third period, but at 13:59 Fort Wayne forward Chris Auger sent a pass from behind the net that was smacked in by defenseman Jordon Southorn.
A shot by Fort Wayne forward Shawn Szydlowski got behind Binnington and came to rest on the goal line just as time expired in overtime.
Note: The Komets waived defenseman Matt Bruneteau, who was scoreless in his first four professional games.