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Komets at Kalamazoo
Face-off: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
While the Fort Wayne Komets are struggling to find their identity as a team, they are also struggling to find confidence in different areas of play.
Their penalty killing has been outstanding at 88.6 percent, but their power play has struggled lately, scoring four goals on its last 37 chances over 10 games. Just a few weeks ago the Komets were over 18 percent with the man advantage, but now they've slipped to 14.9 percent.
"I think the work ethic needs to improve,'' Komets coach Gary Graham said. "We have the talent on this team to get the right looks and the right setups, but where we're failing at not outworking the penalty killers right now.''
When the Komets returned to practice Tuesday after a day off, Graham lined up his best penalty killers to go against his top power-play lines in an attempt to get the offense more used to dealing with intense pressure. He wants that to bring out the best in both units.
With so many talented offensive forwards, the Komets can skate and move the puck, but they are having a hard time finding the right opportunities to score with the man advantage.
"I think we need to work harder away from the puck, and we need to simplify,'' defenseman Rob Kwiet said. "We need to start running more of a shooting power play until teams start respecting our shots, and then we can start making more of the plays we've been trying to make that just aren't there right now.''
Sometimes the Komets try to be fancy rather than just shooting and then piling in looking for rebounds.
"I think the most important thing is to stay positive because it's real easy to get frustrated on the power play,'' winger Mike Vaskivuo said. "We just have to keep working hard and staying positive. It's all about confidence. When you are rolling, it's all fun and games, but your real character comes out when your back is against the wall.''
That's a little rough when the stakes are so critical. Because they are playing so many one-goal games, an extra power-play tally a week could be huge.
Graham thinks the Komets can help themselves by winning a few more face-offs to start the power play. They've been losing most, meaning they have to track the puck down in the other end, skate it up ice and try to get across the blue line to set up their pattern. That takes an extra 30 seconds.
The Komets have also been inconsistent in getting set up in the offensive zone for various reasons.
"It varies on different nights against different teams,'' Vaskivuo said. "Sometimes they clog up the neutral zone, and they are really good at retrieving the pucks. You have to have a combination of both. You just have to keep practicing it and I think Gary knows that.''
Much of it is simply confidence. When the Komets are struggling on the power play, every part of it struggles. If they could score two goals in a game once, it might boost them into a hot streak.
"If you go on a string where you aren't scoring goals and you start making that little extra play to try to get a goal and it's not happening, everything just backfires,'' Kwiet said. "We just have to funnel pucks to the net, and that's when second opportunities happen. Guys bang away at those rebounds, and that's where confidence happens.''