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  • Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette After stopping a 2-on-1 rush, Komets goaltender Michael Houser, left, tries to keep the Adirondack Thunder’s James Henry, right from scoring on the rebound, as Fort Wayne defenseman Bobby Shea, bottom, looks on at Memorial Coliseum on Friday night.

Saturday, November 04, 2017 12:10 am

Keys to improvement for Komets

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Komets’ 4-2 loss to the Adirondack Thunder on Friday dropped them to 2-2-1 this season. Fort Wayne, which has totaled six goals over its last three games, all of them losses, knows what needs to happen to get things going in the right direction and it involves playing with more grit and determination in the offensive zone.

The Komets are cognizant that they’ve been wasting great play by the goaltenders, particularly Michael Houser who stopped 28 shots Friday and the penalty killers who have stopped 18 of 20 power plays this season, and not taken advantage of having every game so far be played at Memorial Coliseum.

“I think we can get a little grittier,” said captain Jamie Schaafsma, who scored a goal, was stopped on a penalty shot and saw teammate Artur Tyanulin score the only other Fort Wayne goal.

“When things aren’t going your way, you start finishing checks more and simplify your game, do those things that get teams going. It’s still early in the season. We can’t be all doom and gloom. Nobody’s happy with losing three in a row. We’re not happy at all with our performance, especially on home ice, in front of our fans who are used to seeing us perform here and do well. We’re going to find a way to turn this around and it starts with hard work and finding a way to maybe play a little smarter out there and generate more offense.”

Coach Gary Graham, who certainly isn’t pleased with another poor performance on the heels of a week of practice, also is confident this group of Komets will get things headed in the right direction starting with the game tonight at the Coliseum against the Quad City Mallards.

“The first couple of games, you score four and you score eight, and everybody is riding high,” Graham said. “Now the last few games you’re struggling and something has definitely happened. There are some guys who are frustrated because they’re here to put up points and it isn’t happening. But we have 100 percent belief in the group. We’ve just got to be patient. Sometimes, you get streaky. Right now, everything has to be on par defensively if we’re not going to score goals. We have to be very meticulous defensively.”

Of course, there have been turnovers to set up odd-man rushes, such as the one that set up Adirondack’s insurance goal tonight, so the defense hasn’t been error-free.

Schaafsma said the Komets have been good generating offense off the rush, but they aren’t doing things to sustain possession of the puck in the offensive zone. They need to be more physical and forecheck better.

“Right now we’re too perimeter. That’s exactly it. We’re setting up around the outside and we need to just get greasier, take it to the net and force them to take more penalties against us,” Schaafsma said. “Things just seem a step off. We’re struggling to get that one step on them and get some zone time.”

Schaafsma added that the locker room is trying to remain positive. After all, it’s still very early in the season.

“I’d like to see our compete level get harder out there,” he said. “But we don’t want to point fingers. We’re all on the same page about turning things around.”

I know lots of people are wondering how much of this has to do with the players arriving from Tucson of the American Hockey League. Remember, the Komets didn’t look good in the game before they arrived, a 3-2 loss to Kansas City on Oct. 21, and the newcomers have provided much of Fort Wayne’s offense in the last two games. That being said, everyone is accountable for the lack of determination offensively and the defensive lapses. The players from Tuscon have to buy in like everybody else. Jalen Smereck, one of the players sent down by Tucson, was on the ice for three of the Thunder’s goals.

It’s good that the schedule is ramping up with a game today and one Sunday, at Kalamazoo, Michigan, so the Komets can get right back to work. It sounds good in theory to have all this time early in the season to practice, but it’s hard to generate any momentum when you’re playing one game a week.

It’s worth noting that Adirondack has a very good defensive corps and part of having all the offensive potential that’s on Fort Wayne’s roster is that opponents can game plan against it.

“Teams know we have a lot of offensive firepower and they defend accordingly,” Graham said. “What we need to understand as a team is that we have to start playing an uglier offensive game. Everybody has to buy into that mentality in order to generate more offense. That’s where we’re struggling right now. When we’re scoring goals, everybody is confident. The well has gone dry right now and we’ve just got to find a way to get back on the right side of it, especially offensively.”

jcohn@jg.net