When playing even strength, the Komets believe they have outperformed the defending-champion Allen Americans. They have a 4-3 advantage in goals to prove it.
But the obstacle has been the lack of even-strength hockey in the Western Conference finals and, thus, the Americans have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into tonight’s game in Allen, Texas.
"Playing 5-on-5, we’ve shown we’re a better team. We’ve definitely been really good playing 5-on-5," said captain Jamie Schaafsma, whose Komets lost 5-3 and 3-2 in overtime in the first two games at Memorial Coliseum.
Allen has gotten the bulk of the power plays and taken advantage. It has scored on 3 of 13 power plays, while Fort Wayne is 1 for 6.
"It’s a broken record at this point. Obviously, we need to stay out of the penalty box," said forward Kyle Thomas, whose Komets have averaged 16.46 penalty minutes per game in the postseason. Allen has averaged 13.8.
Allen has scored on a league-best 23.5 percent of its power plays in the postseason. While Fort Wayne’s penalty kill ranks third at 87.3 percent (second best among the four remaining teams), it has allowed power-play goals in the series to Chad Costello, Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Gregor Hanson.
Perhaps as problematic have been the long-term effects of playing short-handed. Their penalty killers have wound up fatigued, while other players haven’t been able to get off the bench and contribute.
"It takes a toll on us. It’s a lot of extra minutes," Thomas said.
Goaltender Pat Nagle, who has stopped 41 of 48 shots in the series, agreed.
"We need to get back to the game plan," Nagle said. "We got away from it the past couple of games. Penalties have been a big issue. Not only have they scored on the power plays, but then you have a certain group of guys that are spending a lot of time on the ice and another group that is spending a lot of time on the bench. From that aspect, we need to be playing 5-on-5."
In the first round of the playoffs, the Komets also dropped the first two games at home to the Cincinnati Cyclones, taking too many penalties and turning the puck over in their own zone. They went on to win 8-0 in Game 3, took the series in seven games and then swept Utah in the second round.
They are hoping to win two of three at Allen Event Center to force the series back to Fort Wayne, but that’s easier said than done. Allen, which won championships the last three years, has won five of seven home games in the postseason.
"They’re hard minutes (killing penalties). You don’t have four lines like you do in the American Hockey League; you’ve only got 10 (forwards), so those extra minutes take their toll over the course of a physical game," said coach Gary Graham, whose Komets are 4-1 on the road. "Some of those guys that you need to have the legs to create the offense, they’ve played extended minutes because we’ve put ourselves in those situations.
"We’ve got to do a better job of staying out of the box."
The series has had a physical tone – there have been four fights, several post-whistle melees and even a pre-game shouting match – so there will undoubtedly continue to be special-teams action. But Fort Wayne would like to limit them and, when they do face the Americans’ power play, make sure it’s less successful.
"They will get some chances on the power play and they have a lethal power play, and we have to limit that. We’re going to have to learn how we can shut that down," Schaafsma said. "We have to focus on what we want to give up versus trying not to give up any shots. We’ll have to give up some shots, but we want to make sure they’re from the outside and not high-risk scoring chances."