FORT WAYNE – Midway through their second season in the ECHL, the Komets are 15-13-8 and three points back of Greenville for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
While their record has been middle of the road, the season has been anything but uninteresting.
Here’s a look at the top happenings – good and bad – so far:
Marino’s magnificence: Brandon Marino was one of the few bright spots last season, when the Komets missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and he was selected MVP by his teammates. This season, he has 16 goals and a league-leading 43 points in 36 games, surpassing his pace of 20 goals and 74 points in 71 games last season.
Lots of trades: The Komets made nine trades between Nov. 11 and Jan. 6, shipping off their captain, Nick Tuzzolino, the ECHL’s leading goal scorer at the time; Mickey Lang; and Mike Vaskivuo, the Playoff MVP en route to the 2012 CHL championship.
Diamonds in the rough: Last year, Scott Fleming was recovering from a head injury and retired as a player. He joined the Komets – a union that was arranged by old friend Chris Auger – and he’s been terrific with 10 goals and 31 points, second among league rookies, in 36 games. Meanwhile, goaltender Andrey Makarov, just 20, has shown he may have a future in the Buffalo Sabres’ organization. He is 11-6-2 with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.
A new captain: Not since Colin Chin had a local guy become captain of the Komets, but the honor was bestowed upon Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock on Dec. 26. The Komets are 5-4-3 since then. Schrock’s play has improved; in 24 games before getting the C he had two goals, four points and a minus-10 rating, and in 10 games since he has one goal, three points and a plus-3 rating.
Inconsistency: The Komets have won three consecutive games only once this season – Nov. 9 to Nov. 16 – and have won back-to-back games only two other times. In the first period, the Komets have outscored the opposition 37-26. In the second period, they’ve been outscored 34-30 and in the third period, 47-33.
Solid penalty killers: The Komets rank second in the ECHL at 87.9 percent efficiency. Only Greenville is better at 89.9 percent.
With 36 games remaining on the schedule, here’s a look at what the Komets must improve upon if they want to reach the postseason:
Better offense: The Komets have averaged only 2.86 goals per game, 14th best among the ECHL’s 22 teams. Over the last 14 games, they’ve scored 2.36 per game. Part of the problem has been depth – Mike Embach is the only consistent scorer beyond the first line – but as a whole, the Komets don’t finish off enough scoring opportunities.
Improve the power play: At 14 percent efficiency, the power play ranks 14th. The Komets are scoreless in their last 14 power plays and have one goal in their last 23.
Show more toughness: The Komets have done OK at staying out of the penalty box; they rank eighth with only 14.92 penalty minutes per game. But they aren’t scaring anyone. In their last six games, goalies Makarov and Ben Meisner were both injured when opposing players crashed into the net, with no retaliation from the Komets, who have five major penalties, sixth fewest in the ECHL.
Limit rebounds: Both goalies have shown promise – Meisner is 2-2-1 with a 2.62 GAA and a .919 save percentage in six games – but both have been susceptible to giving up rebounds. With the Komets’ offense sagging, the Komets can’t afford to give up soft goals.
Here’s a look at the most important upcoming games:
Friday, at Elmira: The Komets begin three straight games, and four of five, against the Jackals (12-19-4). The Jackals won 5-3 at Memorial Coliseum last Friday, and Fort Wayne cannot squander chances against low-rung teams.
March 19 vs. Orlando: The first game against the Solar Bears (20-13-3) and Lang, since he demanded a trade.
March 28, at South Carolina: The first of back-to-back games against the Stingrays (26-10-3), who lead the Eastern Conference and have the ECHL’s top defense (2.00 goals against per game).
Note: Defenseman Jace Coyle was released by Lake Erie of the American Hockey League.
He was scoreless and minus-2 in three games.
He will rejoin the Komets, for whom he has four goals, 22 points and a minus-12 rating in 32 games this season.