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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Tylor Spink of Toledo pins Shawn Szydlowski of the Komets on the boards, 2nd period, Saturday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Toledo’s Tylor Spink hits the Komets’ Mike Embach from behind Saturday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Mike Cazzola of the Komets has the puck behind the Toledo net, 1st period, Saturday.

Saturday, December 31, 2016 8:21 pm

It's time to address Komets' penalties

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

After a 3-1 loss to the ECHL-leading Toledo Walleye tonight, Komets coach Gary Graham was as frustrated as I've seen him this season.

The Komets showed they can outplay the Walleye. Even though their one goal, from Kyle Thomas, was a fortuitous one that ricocheted off the boards and was bumbled by the Walleye before going in, the Komets had so many great scoring chances they could have racked up seven goals if Jake Paterson wasn’t such a good netminder.

But as has been the case for about 15 months, the Komets can’t get out of their own way with penalties.

Tonight, they took the final five penalties, giving up a power-play goal to Tylor Spink and the winner to Tyson Spink 18 seconds after a penalty expired. It’s not just that the Walleye was 1 for 5 on power plays; putting your team in short-handed situations like that kills momentum and fatigues players.

“We lose because we take dumb penalties. And we won’t learn. Our team is a stubborn, stubborn group,” Graham said.

It wasn’t consolation that this was the best performance of the season against Toledo for the Komets, who are 0-2-1 in the series.

“A loss is a loss and until we figure out a way to beat these guys, it’s a loss. No matter how well we play, until we get two points against these guys, it doesn’t matter,” Graham said.

The Komets sought to become a tougher team this season and they have. Anyone who saw the victory Thursday, in which they fought Cincinnati five teams, can attest to that. So being second in the ECHL in penalty minutes is to be expected – to some extent.

It’s the minor penalties, especially the ones that come at inopportune times, which are driving Graham, management and the fans crazy. Some of the players have learned – Cody Sol, for example, has done a better job of not getting penalties in the final five minutes of games this season – but the collective continues to not recognize when’s the right time to retaliate or when you have to know the referee is looking to call something.

This is not the coach’s fault. The players have to take ownership of this because the coach cannot put the skates on and play for them. It’s on the leaders to set the example and to keep others in line. It's the type of thing that Colin Chaulk or Sean Venedam would have addressed – set the example and keep teammates in line.

It’s worth mentioning that the ECHL has younger players than when Chaulk and Venedam were winning championships. These players are mostly younger, theoretically developing and learning.

But after 15 months of this, maybe personnel changes are the only effective message. That may sound extreme, but consider the way the Komets have played in their last seven games. They’ve won five of them, but they’ve had to overcome stretches of nonexistent offense, a dismal 6-1 loss to Chaulk's Brampton Beast, a four-goal game from Indy's Josh Shalla and, of course, penalties.

The Komets say often that they won’t make excuses, so I'm not going to delve into the seven players they’re missing from the lineup and say this just isn't their regulars on the ice. You can't have it both ways.

Management sent a clear message with the goaltending this week by acquiring P.J. Musico. If the frustration with the penalties is as bad as I sense it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if more changes are to come.

Only one team, Allen, has more minor penalties than the Komets’ 184. The Komets are nine points behind Toledo in the division and, really, the Walleye and Colorado have separated themselves from the pack in terms of quality of play in the conference. The Komets are just as talented as those teams, maybe even more so, but they will have to grow. That was clear tonight.

"You cannot play the most disciplined team and the No. 1 team in the league and take bad penalties. Whether they score on them or not, we lost all that momentum. We had guys gassed,” Graham said.

At least there are 42 games left in the regular season to rectify it.

jcohn@jg.net