The Komets didn't want to make anything easy for the league-worst Iowa Heartlanders on Friday, especially when the puck was headed into the Fort Wayne zone, not after a few games of opponents rushing their way up the ice to mount scoring chances.
So the Komets used their hulking defensemen to plug up the gaps and did something else they hadn't been doing well – shooting whenever they had opportunities – and it summed up a 4-0 Fort Wayne victory in front of 6,082 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
“We wanted to make it as difficult as possible for them to score goals, which means no free entries and that they'd have to go chip the puck and get it back,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “When you have the size we have on the back end – 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 defensemen, just monster defensemen – that is a very tough thing to do for 60 minutes to take that abuse and retrieve pucks in the corners.”
Goaltender Jiri Patera had 23 saves for the Komets' first shutout since Nov. 13, when Samuel Harvey stopped 39 against Toledo, but Patera admitted his defensemen were the true heroes of the game.
“They were clearing all the rebounds and blocking all the shots,” Patera said. “I saw almost every single puck and most of the pucks weren't on the net. The ones I didn't see, they blocked. They were playing an amazing game in front of me.”
Blake Siebenaler had two third-period goals, and Will Graber had one goal and two assists. Graber, has four goals and eight points in the last six games, all while playing forward instead of defense for the short-handed Komets (10-5-2), who came in on a 1-3-1 slide.
The expansion Heartlanders (4-11-3) played Friday with only 16 skaters – two short of a full lineup – because of injuries, call-ups and a three-game Cole Stallard suspension.
Fort Wayne finally had something resembling a normal ratio of forwards to defensemen – nine to seven – after it had recently played with as many as nine defensemen because of injuries, call-ups and positive COVID-19 tests. The Komets had four players in quarantine – Connor Jones, Harvey, Shawn Boudrias and Chays Ruddy – along with assistant coach Olivier Legault and equipment manager Skylar Garver. Team officials said players Matthew Barnaby and D.J. King were ill but had tested negative for COVID-19.
Graber opened the scoring 1:04 into the first period by smacking the rebound of a Kellen Jones shot past goalie Trevin Kozlowski, who finished with 28 saves.
Tyler Busch had a nifty assist 7:07 into the second period; backing into the corner he sent a pass to Connor Corcoran for a rocketing 35-foot shot and a 2-0 Fort Wayne lead.
Notes: Stephen Harper was reassigned to Fort Wayne by the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves. ... The Komets released Marcus Ortiz. ... Laura Schmidlein will be become the first woman to officiate an ECHL game when she's one of the linespeople Dec. 11 as the Worcester Railers host the Maine Mariners.