AP NEWS

Wings closing the gap on Komets

March 21, 2019

Even in a loss, there’s little doubt the Komets are playing better hockey than they were just a couple of weeks ago. But after Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Kalamazoo Wings at Memorial Coliseum, the Komets know they’re not playing playoff-caliber hockey : at least not yet.

The Wings, in one of their biggest games of the season, got within one point of the Komets for third place in the Central Division.

“I just thought they wanted it more,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “They were quicker on pucks. They were better defensively than us. We scratched our way back into a game, but against these teams that are playing playoff-style hockey, you’ve got some guys on our team, some big names, that are absolutely invisible on the ice.”

Fort Wayne rallied from a 4-1 deficit by getting goals from Brady Shaw, who scored on a breakaway thanks to a Shawn Szydlowski pass from the boards, and Mason Baptista, who found the net during a power play.

But the Komets couldn’t capitalize on a third-period 5-on-3 power play, during which Szydlowski hit the post, and they fell to 31-22-9 with 10 games remaining in the regular season.

Kalamazoo (33-27-4), which got 25 saves from Matiss Kivlenieks, a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect, has two fewer games left.

The road for the Komets, who had won five of their previous six games, doesn’t get much easier as they play host to the ECHL-leading Cincinnati Cyclones at 8 p.m. Friday.

“We’ve got some guys who want it (to be) easy and it’s not going to come easy,” Graham said. “That’s going to be the key down the stretch here: Are we going to play a full 60 minutes the right way : be willing to work hard, forecheck and get pucks out of the dirty areas : or are we just going to want it easy? We had a lot of bad turnovers, really from our forward group tonight.”

Kalamazoo’s Tanner Sorenson set up the game’s first goal with a wrist shot from the blue line that was redirected by Chris Collins, who was high-sticked by Fort Wayne’s Craig Cescon on the play.

On the ensuing power play, Kalamazoo’s Brendan Bradley made it 2-0 with a 35-foot shot that went underneath goaltender Eric Levine, who had 27 saves.

Fort Wayne’s Kyle Hope got to the rebound of a Baptista shot and flicked it into an open net 4:37 into the first period, cutting Kalamazoo’s lead to one goal, but the Wings’ Kyle Blaney answered by drawing Levine out of the net and tucking the puck inside the near post at 11:50 for a 3-1 lead.

With Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma in the penalty box for high-sticking : it happened because a Kalamazoo player had knocked his stick into the air : the Wings took a 4-1 lead on a Michael Neal shot from the left circle 7:26 into the second period.

Kalamazoo scored on 2 of 5 power plays; Fort Wayne was 1 for 5.

“We obviously need to elevate in this type of game,” Schaafsma said. “That’s what we need to see from players: Who can elevate their game in the big games? It was a little bit disappointing in that fashion. We’ve got to find ways to generate more offense and get more scoring chances. They played a good game. We weren’t terrible. But in these games, we’ve got to find a way to get to another level and find another gear and be better.”

jcohn@jg.net