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Komets at Gwinnett
Face-off: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
As he stands just inside the Komets' locker room door following Saturday's loss, captain Colin Chaulk is trying to sum up what is happening to his team.
As usual, he spares no one, speaking just loud enough that everyone in the quiet locker room can hear as they finish removing their gear. After the 4-2 loss to Toledo, no one was saying much, anyway.
``You can't expect to play one period and win a game,'' Chaulk said. ``It's simple, I think. In the third period we worked hard, one period.''
After a 7-2-1 start, the Komets have lost five of their last six games, falling to 4-5-0 at home. Saturday's loss was the same as every other loss during the slump. The Komets fought back to tie and then fell apart late defensively.
``So the first three games of the losing streak we didn't work, we didn't compete,'' Chaulk said. ``We win a game (Thursday) and then we play two periods (Friday) and now we play one period. You're not going to win hockey at this level with 23 teams when minor hockey is shrinking every year and hundreds of players from the AA level are at home looking to find a job if you don't work. It's just not going to happen.''
Over the six-game span, the Komets have scored only 11 goals while their power play has given up 11. They've been out-shot in five of the six games and out-chanced in every game. Opponents have scored first in nine of the last 11 games. Those kind of stats are putting tremendous pressure on a very young defense, and the goaltenders must feel like they have to play perfectly.
So what's the solution?
``In my mind it's simple,'' Chaulk said. ``If you don't work, you don't compete, then we need to find guys that will.''
Five players are currently on the injured list, but management is trying to find better players, Komets General Manager David Franke said. The team has already added forward Thomas Beauregard and Norfolk sent down defenseman Gabe Guentzel before the weekend.
``There are players out there, but there's nobody out there right now that I know of who is a difference maker,'' Franke said. ``But that doesn't mean we're not looking. There are players coming back from Europe, there are players getting reassigned by other teams down to the ECHL, so we're actively looking to upgrade the team if we can. Until that happens, the guys need to bear down and we need to score some goals and take the pressure off our defense and our goaltenders. Play with a lead once in a while. When we play with a lead, we're usually pretty good at that.''
Coach Al Sims shuffled the lines before Thursday's game, and the Komets responded with four goals. Then their offense disappeared for the most part over the next two games. Instead of working together as they did Thursday, the forwards seemed to try to make only individual plays the last two games.
``That's what happens when things don't work,'' Chaulk said. ``Everyone starts to think they know better than the management, the coach, than the other players, the goalies their D partner or their wingers or their center. Everyone thinks they know better. We need to stick together and stay the course. Winners stick together and stay the course. It takes some time to drill it into people's heads, but we'll get there.''
For that to happen, they have to score some goals. Through the first 10 games, they continually crashed the net, and now they aren't getting close to rebounds or the opposing goalies. They are settling for outside shots, something they usually like to force opponents to do. Instead, opponents have scored first in seven of the nine home games.
``We have to put the puck in the net and that takes a little bit of pressure off our D and our goaltending,'' Franke said. ``You can't ask our goalies to let in one or two goals every night and expect us to win with only scoring a couple of goals. If you put the puck in the net, you win, but if you don't you struggle.''
They also aren't keeping anyone away from the front of their own net, especially on the penalty kill. They've also quit hitting and finishing when they do check someone, usually veering off to avoid collisions.
It's tough to question a team's commitment 16 games into a season, but the Komets have certainly lacked passion at home, and the lack of discipline is astonishing. Even veterans who can play the system instinctively are looking up to make sure teammates are in position before passing. Sometimes they aren't.
A winning road record is great, but a losing home record doesn't satisfy the people who are paying the bills. The Komets play their next five games on the road, but they need this slump to end a lot quicker than their next home game in two weeks.
``We've played well on the road this year, and we always seem to play well on the road,'' Chaulk said. ``You're supposed to be a great team at home, you're supposed to be competitive at home, you're supposed to work at home and entertain at home. On the road you have no one to entertain. It's just not acceptable.''
He'll find out soon if anyone is listening.