In the wake of the Komets' 5-3 loss to the Kalamazoo Wings, which extended Fort Wayne's losing streak to three games and sent 10,067 fans out of the home opener disappointed, the big thing they were talking about in the locker room was the inability to play with the lead.
I'll tell you what they said and then I'll give you my take.
“It was very good defensive hockey most of the weekend for us and, all of a sudden, we just made some bad decisions in the third period. Guys have to know how to play with the lead. We've been in some tight games,” coach Gary Graham said.
“Sometimes, you can want it so bad when you're playing in front of a big crowd like that and you're trying to make plays and go forward. And they're coming at you and give up stupid odd-man rushes. If we would have just played a simple third period like we had been the whole game, we would have been fine.”
By the way, my video highlights are above. However, if you want the third period dramatics, they can be found here: https://vimeo.com/296233898.
Remember, the Komets twice coughed up a lead in this game, leading rookie Aidan Muir to say: “I think we maybe got a little too excited after our third goal, when we got up one. I think we lost track of our game a little bit and couple of breakdowns led to them scoring. So I think we've got to keep it even keel or stuff like that can happen.”
The good news is some of the newcomers finally scored; Muir and Chase Stewart. But that was little consolation to Graham.
“It's disappointing because of the way we lost the game. Anytime you lose a game the way we lost it, with the boneheaded mistakes we made from key players, that's unacceptable,” Graham said. “In this division, with the way it is and how competitive it's going to be, we've got to get a lot better in a hurry.”
OK, here's my take: I don't think the Komets know what their identity is at all yet.
I feel like they want to be a defensive-minded grit team. Aside from that being totally different from what we're used to, if they're going to be that type of team, they have to be much more mistake-free with the puck. Kalamazoo pounced on every little mistake and turned it into goals the last two games. Imagine what Toledo will do.
And if they're going to be that type of team, I'm surprised they're not being a smidge more antagonistic. Garret Ross is trying to be, but not many more than that.
I still think it's early to get too down; at least the Komets showed some offense tonight.
I know I'm going to get asked about the power play, so here's what I'm seeing: the Komets' problem isn't in the offensive zone but in breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and that's because they don't have anyone to bring the puck up the ice. They are used to having a forward or a very skilled defenseman move the puck up the ice. Right now, the only person who seems willing to do it is Justin Hodgman, so we're seeing a ton of turnovers. That seems to be a personnel issue and a confidence issue. I would expect them to work more on that this week, and I'm just guessing here, but maybe with Phelix Martineau or Marco Roy as the puck handlers.
And odd-man rushes aside, the goaltending has to get better; too many 5-hole goals in the first four games.