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Komets’ bugaboo: Poor starts

November 18, 2018

TOLEDO : Leaning against the back of a chair in the bowels of the Huntington Center, Gary Graham had the look of a coach frustrated because he’d seen this game play out once too many times already in this season, only 13 games old.

“You’d have to ask them in that locker room what the deal is,” he said, referring to his players. “It’s a common problem for us and it’s an uphill battle and it’s not a good recipe for long-term success, that’s for sure.”

The Komets had just been handed a 2-1 loss to their hated rival, the Toledo Walleye, in front of a sellout crowd of 8,300 fans at the Huntington Center.

On paper, the outcome wasn’t striking : Fort Wayne (5-8-0) has lost three of its last four games; Toledo (11-1-1) is atop the conference and on a 10-0-1 run : but this was another game in which the Komets paid for a dreadfully poor start.

In the first period, they were outscored 2-0 and outshot 15-4. The officiating of Sean Fernandez could be debated : the Walleye was 0 for 6 on power plays; the Komets 0 for 2 : but there was no denying the impact of the start.

“There’s a major focus problem with the locker room. We’re talking about it. We’re aware of it. Tonight, it happened again,” said Graham, whose Komets lost 4-1 on Friday at Cincinnati, where they were outscored 3-0 and outshot 11-4 in the first period.

“You can talk all you want, but the 18 guys on the ice, they’ve got to put the action into place. Every time, it’s a bad first period, a good second period and then sometimes it’s a coin flip in the third.”

After Zach Fucale gave up four goals on 28 shots at Cincinnati, Toledo native Lukas Hafner was back from bereavement leave and back in net for the Komets to stop 24 of 26 shots Saturday.

He was foiled by former NHL player T.J. Hensick’s wrist shot 1:51 into the first period : Hensick has three goals and eight points in three games against the Komets : and a wild Greg Wolfe goal made it 2-0.

On that goal, Wolfe skated down the left flank and fired a shot that slipped underneath Hafner. Fort Wayne captain Jamie Schaafsma desperately tried to keep the puck from crossing the goal line with his skates, but Wolfe poked it just over the line.

Toledo’s Pat Nagle, a former Fort Wayne goalie, stopped 19 of 20 shots.

The only time Nagle was bested was when he was caught playing the puck behind the net, allowing Jake Kamrass to send a pass in front for Garrett Ladd to score 14:31 into the second period.

Nagle foiled a breakaway by Justin Hodgman in the second period, and Jason Binkley later missed the net at the end of a 2-on-1 rush.

“We’ve got to find a way to stop that momentum at the beginning of games and have better starts,” Schaafsma said. “We’ve got to find a way to fix it and find a way to come out with some jump and get that first goal. We’ve got to concentrate on really putting the focus on getting that first goal and putting them on their heels, that’s something that we should try to do.”

The Komets are 3-7-0 against divisional foes.

“We talked about getting off to a quick start,” Toledo coach Dan Watson said. “We saw what Cincinnati did (Friday) night to Fort Wayne and we wanted to make sure we got lots of shots early on and applied some pressure, got them back on their heels as we’re on our toes. We should have been the more energetic team early on, which we were, so I guess that quick start was something that we wanted to accomplish.”

jcohn@jg.net

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