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The Journal Gazette

  • Andy Morrison | The Blade Komets defenseman Will Weber upends Evan Rankin of the Toledo Walleye at the Huntington Center on Friday night in Toledo, Ohio, as the teams opened the Central Division finals.

  • Andy Morrison | The Blade The Komets' Dan Milan chases Zach Nastasiuk of the Toledo Walleye on Friday night.

Saturday, April 29, 2017 12:00 am

Analyzing Komets' Game 1 performance

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

TOLEDO, Ohio – I’m sick of writing about it. You’re sick of reading about it. I’m sure the Komets are sick of being asked about it.

But here it is: The Komets simply have to stop taking these penalties.

I think you can legitimately argue the Komets were the better team 5-on-5 tonight – they had the only even-strength goal from Trevor Cheek – but they lost 2-1 to the Toledo Walleye in the opening game of the Central Division finals.

Toledo scored on 2 of 5 power plays. Fort Wayne was 0 for 2. And, oh, by the way, the Komets’ first power play lasted only 15 seconds before Jamie Schaafsma negated it with a high-sticking penalty and the their second generated only one shot on goal.

Despite what many of the fans in Toledo like to tell me, Toledo isn’t a bunch of choir boys. I dare say, it does plenty of dirty stuff. But the Walleye is just really good at hiding it.

Fort Wayne is not.

Kyle Thomas’ cross-checking penalty that set up the A.J. Jenks game-winning goal was obvious. Even if Beau Schmitz embellished it, he took a hit from behind while in a dangerous position heading into the boards. Cheek’s cross-check that set up a 10-player fracas left the Komets short-handed. I’m not saying it was the right call but, to be frank, the Komets are marked men because of their penalty record and they can’t give the referees (especially the unpredictable ECHL referees) a reason to send them to the box.

“It’s a best-of-7 for a reason and you’re not going to win the series in the first game, that’s for sure,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “We’ve just got to stay up and understand that we cannot take offensive-zone penalties and take bad retaliation penalties and have it end up just being us in the penalty box. If it’s going to be a scrum, it better end up 4-on-4 because we can’t end up at the short end of it. It cost us.”

Video highlights are above.

Toledo had the ECHL’s top-rated power play in the league at 25.1 percent in the regular season and was 6 of 24 in the first round.

This falls on the leaders. They have to get it into the heads of everyone in the room that bad penalties can’t be taken. The problem is, if you look at the box scores, the leaders are often the worst offenders.

But I don’t want to rant on the negatives because, frankly, the Komets played a pretty remarkable game beyond special teams. They played at a frenetic pace would have won were it not for the heroics of goaltender Jeff Lerg, who could be seen gloving a Garrett Thompson shot at the end of a 2-on-1 rush, poking the puck away from Shawn Szydlowski before he could score into an open net, stopping a Mike Embach redirection with his mask and then sprawling to cover it, and foiling Mike Cazzola and Dan Milan on 10-foot shots to protect the 2-1 lead in the third period.

The thing they need to tweak heading into Game 2 is the amount of traffic they get in front of the 5-foot-6 netminder.

“He’s a good goalie and he finds ways to see the puck,” Cazzola said. “He’s able to track his rebounds. It’s going to be a long series and we’re obviously going to try to get more traffic in front.”

By the way, Cazzola said it was the Komets’ “most full and complete game” of the playoffs so far.

On the issue of creating more traffic, Graham said: “That’s something that we’ve definitely got to do a better job of. There were times when we got in that high slot area and we had a chance to shoot. … We’ve got to take a page out of their book. Both shots they had were both very innocent shots from the high slot area but there was traffic around the front and they scored. I thought we did a lot of good things. We’ve got to take the positives. We’ve just got to stay consistent with the game plan. We definitely need to get more traffic around the net and get more urgency around the net-front. Guys need to win some battles.”

jcohn@jg.net