The only thing hotter than the Komets’ offense right now is their power play.
The ECHL’s top-ranked offense unloaded again on the Kalamazoo Wings – converting on 3 of 7 power-play chances – as Fort Wayne won 7-2 in front of 8,289 fans at Memorial Coliseum Friday night .
“We’re just forechecking well and that’s the key right now,” said Brett McKenzie, who scored his first two goals of the season with a redirection and a breakaway, both in the third period. “Our power play is hot right now and we’re all playing well.”
Fort Wayne, which came into the game with 4.5 goals per game, has scored on 11 of its last 25 power plays through four games.
“We’re just working hard, we’re setting up plays and we’re making the right decisions on the power play. That’s making for good offense,” McKenzie said.
The Komets (8-4-1) have won three in a row, all against Kalamazoo (4-4-2), but it wasn’t without some bad news. The Komets lost A.J. Jenks to a lower-body injury and Shawn Szydlowski too an upper-body injury, putting them both in doubt for Saturday’s game at Cincinnati.
“It was the freakiest game I’ve ever seen as far as injuries,” coach Ben Boudreau said, adding that Chase Stewart, Brad Ross and McKenzie all were injured, too. “Guys were dropping like flies tonight. Maybe something’s in the water, full moon last night, I don’t know what it is. More than 33 percent of roster went down with injuries tonight.
“For us in the summer, we had to be aware of this stretch of games in November and December, and that’s why we built this team pretty deep. We tried to keep as many bodies and keep as many guys around as we could. Guys are going to get opportunities to play.”
The Wings lost forward Brennan Sanford to a head injury when he was walloped by a check at the blue line by Stewart in the second period. Sanford, who hit his head on the ice as he fell, was taken to a local hospital but was expected to be back in time to join his teammates for their postgame departure.
Goaltender Dylan Ferguson, who had missed the previous two games with a muscle strain, was back in the Fort Wayne lineup and stopped 31 shots. Matthew Villialta was the backup. Despite Ferguson’s return, the Komets opted to keep Patrick Munson and carry three goalies for the time being.
The Komets started strong when Jenks proved the point that if you shoot the puck, good things can happen. Jenks unleashed the game’s first shot from the top of the left circle and got to the rebound in the corner, immediately firing the puck again toward the goal. The puck caromed off the back of goaltender Jake Kielly (27 saves), who managed to swing his arm backward and fling the puck out of the net, but instant replay showed that it had clearly gone over the goal line 33 seconds into the first period.
The Komets have scored first in 8 of 13 games, winning six of those eight.
“It’s very important. We’re playing with confidence,” Boudreau said. “I’ll give credit to (Szydlowski, Jenks and Jason Binkley). Every single game, like I’ve said, they’re doing a great job of making sure guys are ready inside that dressing room. I don’t have to come in here and settle them down or get them going.”
The Wings’ Zach Diamantoni tied it at the end of a 2-on-1 rush at 6:49. Fort Wayne regained the lead when Brady Shaw fished the puck out of the corner and sent a pass to Olivier Galipeau at the blue line, where he shot the puck high on Kielly at 15:09.
After Kalamazoo’s Aaron Thow took a delay-of-game penalty for blatantly knocking his own net off its moorings, Shawn St-Amant’s shot from the right circle caromed off the stick of a Kalamazoo player and into the top of the net for a 3-1 Komet lead at 18:47.
Justin Kovacs got Kalamazoo back within a goal when he flicked a rebound past Ferguson 5:26 into the second period, but another Fort Wayne power-play goal saw Szydlowski’s shot from the point carom off the hand of Ross and into the net for a 4-2 lead at 17:44.
“Everybody is just working together. It’s not just one guy scoring a goal; it’s everybody,” Ross said. “I think that’s a huge part. Nobody is selfish in here and if one guy goes down, another guy steps up.”
After McKenzie scored his first goal, Alan Lyszczarczyk’s pass set up Brad Morrison, who circumvented the defense and scored for a 6-2 lead at 11:25. McKenzie finished the scoring at 15:02.
Notes: Kalamazoo’s Dylan Sadowy saw his goal-scoring streak, which had been at eight games, snapped. It was the longest such streak in the ECHL this season. … Stewart fought Kalamazoo captain Ben Wilson immediately after the hit on Sanford. … The Komets will wear Joker-themed jerseys Saturday at Cincinnati and Sunday at Wheeling, as those teams wear Batman jerseys through the league-wide partnership with DC. The Komets’ DC night at the Coliseum is Jan. 18 and they will wear Batman jerseys against the Toledo Jokers.