Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette Komets defenseman Bobby Shea, bottom, helps goaltender Michael Houser, keep a shot from Adirondack's James Henry out of the net at Memorial Coliseum.
Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette Komets defenseman Daniel Maggio, left, slides to attempt to block a shot by Cincinnati's Daniel Muzito-Bagenda at Memorial Coliseum.
Wednesday, January 03, 2018 1:00 am
Komets' goaltenders appreciate sacrifices
Teammates starting to put bodies on line to keep pucks away
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Coliseum
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM
The Komets have shut out opponents in three of their last five games. While the goaltenders, Michael Houser and Garrett Bartus, get the statistical credit for that, it goes beyond their acrobatics and nifty glove saves.
Their teammates have been sacrificing their bodies to block shots, preventing pucks from even reaching Houser and Bartus, and that was particularly apparent in their last three victories – 5-2 over Wheeling, 5-0 at Quad City and 3-0 over Toledo – which brought Fort Wayne to 15 victories in its last 18 games.
“We've been pretty good with back-to-back shutouts. Three of the last five (games) have been shutouts, so we've been playing really well defensively,” said Houser, who stopped 37 shots in Sunday's victory over the Walleye, extending the Komets' current shutout streak to 126 minutes, 31 seconds.
“Even with guys out with injuries or called up, we know that we have enough scoring in here, and if we play well enough defensively, we can get three or four goals and win any night. The guys have bought into that. ... It's been fun to be back there in goal.”
What sparked Houser's teammates to begin blocking so many shots? Two things.
The first was the demand by coach Gary Graham last week for them to do so, coinciding with the realization by the players that with guys like Dennis Kravchenko coming back from injuries, players could return from the higher-level American Hockey League, and only players who stood out would remain in the lineup.
“People were going to get scratched, and they know we're going to have bodies back eventually, and they know you're either going to do it or you're going to be out of the lineup,” Houser said. “Right now, everyone is doing it. No one is getting out of the way (of pucks). Everyone is doing it. And everyone deserves to stay in the lineup right now.”
Something even more important was forward Taylor Crunk blocking a shot Friday against Wheeling that required him to get stitches but didn't keep him out of the game.
“You have Crunker take one off the foot, and his foot is bleeding. That's unheard of, that can save a goal,” defenseman Bobby Shea said.
It's easy for a coach to say, “Go out there and block shots,” but he's not the one who has to do it. When a teammate does it and it leads to a dramatic victory, it can be contagious.
“(Crunk) came back into the game and he's playing through it. You see guys thinking, maybe, 'Do I want to be that guy?' But all of a sudden, when one guy does it and then the next guy does it, then you have something going,” Graham said.
“It's getting that first guy to step out of the box and do something and then the next guy wants to do it. And when the team starts having success, then you can start creating an environment around doing it. That's what we need.”
The Komets (20-8-2), who are one point behind Toledo for the Central Division lead, host the Kalamazoo Wings (14-11-3) tonight at Memorial Coliseum. It's only the second meeting of the season between the rivals; the Wings won 6-3 in Michigan on Nov. 5.
The Komets' goaltending situation, however, became muddied again when Sean Maguire returned Tuesday from Tucson of the AHL. Maguire still hasn't played for the Komets, but with Wheeling he was 8-3-0 with a 3.28 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.