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  • Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette At the end of an odd-man rush, the puck sails past Komets goaltender Eric Hartzell after a shot from the Quad City Mallards’ Justin Kovacs, top, as Curtis Leonard and Cody Sol trail the play at Memorial Coliseum.

Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:02 pm

Komets emphasize playing smarter, more disciplined

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

If the Komets are to return to winning, they’ll have to do it by improving their anticipation.

Having been outscored 13-3 in their last two games, losses to Toledo and Quad City, the Komets spent time this week working on their defensive coverage.

Coach Gary Graham wants to see his Komets give up fewer odd-man rushes and that starts with anticipating plays in the offensive zone that could end up going the other direction. And that starts with Fort Wayne’s forwards.

"They were caught on the wrong side of the puck (against Quad City)," said Graham, whose team is 9-5-2 heading into tonight’s game at Memorial Coliseum against the Missouri Mavericks (8-9-1).

"You get in there and you work hard for 20 seconds in the offensive zone and maybe you get a scoring chance, maybe you don’t, but you have to read the play. Whenever puck possession is unclear or is on the walls, you have to start shading on the defensive side of the puck. We were always on the wrong side of the puck (in the 6-2 loss). Guys were wanting it to come to them, so if (the Mallards) would win a battle, we were all on the wrong side, the D was jumping and that’s why you want to create that distance."

This hasn’t been the only recent problem for the Komets, who have spent too much time in the penalty box and dealt with myriad injuries, but it’s been the biggest as they’ve lost three of their last five games.

The Komets added forward Devin Mantha, the son of longtime NHL player Moe Mantha, to the roster Thursday.

Devin Mantha had been with Mississippi of the Single-A Southern Professional Hockey League, totaling four goals and nine points in 13 games, after spending last season with Norfolk of the ECHL with five goals and 10 points in 26 games.

Earlier in the week, the Komets added goalie Garrett Bartus and dropped Keegan Asmundson, though Eric Hartzell remains atop the depth chart with Pat Nagle recovering from a high ankle sprain.

"We can elevate our game in all aspects, really," captain Jamie Schaafsma said. "We’ve just got to find a way to be better."

On Sunday, the Komets play host to the Utah Grizzlies (7-10-2), who were swept by Fort Wayne in the second round of the playoffs last season. The Komets haven’t faced Utah in a regular-season game since winning 5-3 at the Coliseum in 1999 in the International Hockey League.

The Komets lead the ECHL in penalty minutes with 21 per game. Fortunately, they rank fifth on the penalty kill at 87.7 percent. But they’ve been short-handed 81 times and had only 55 chances on the power play, where they rank 12th at 18.2 percent.

"Discipline is something we’ve talked about – it’s up on the (dry-erase) board there – and it’s something we want to address," Schaafsma said. "We want to limit the number of power plays for the other teams. In this league, when you’ve got 72 games and you’ve got all these three (games) in three (nights), you can’t be getting these penalties all the time. You’re giving the opponent all this momentum and you’re making your job that much harder. We’ve got to find ways to keep our feet moving and not take those undisciplined penalties."

Note: Fans are invited to bring new or gently used stuffed animals tonight and toss them on the ice after the first Fort Wayne goal. They will be collected for the Disorderly Bear Den, a public charity that gives teddy bears to children in trauma situations. ... Defenseman Curtis Leonard was the ECHL Plus Performer of the Month with a rating of plus-14.