READING, Pa. – During the regular season, the Komets and Reading Royals had two of the better offenses in the ECHL, yet they’ve combined for only nine goals through the first two games of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals series.
And two of those goals were scored into empty nets.
But no one is surprised. After all, these are the playoffs, and defense usually wins.
You can see it’s just tight, said coach Gary Graham, whose Komets won the opener 2-1 on Thursday and lost 4-2 on Saturday, with the series now headed back to Memorial Coliseum for Thursday’s Game 3.
You look at their lineup over there with all the (American Hockey League) experience and offensive firepower, but it’s still just tight and that’s what the playoffs are. It’s what’s to be expected. There’s good goaltending and the teams are defending well.
During the regular season, the Royals went 46-22-4 and won the Eastern Conference with an offense that ranked fourth in the league with 3.18 goals per game. The Komets took the conference’s eighth seed at 36-24-12 with the 13th-ranked offense and 2.99 goals per game.
Fort Wayne forward Shawn Szydlowski has two goals in the series, including the Game 1 winner with 8.1 seconds left at Santander Arena. Reading’s Josh Brittain also has two goals, including a Game 2 empty-netter.
The Komets would certainly like to create more scoring chances, after getting outshot 31-20 in Game 2. Even in Game 1, when they outshot the defending champion Royals 39-21, most of those chances came from the perimeter.
We’ve got to come back to basics, Komets defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin said. Get pucks to the net and have guys grinding it out in front of the net, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about.
When the Komets get a good scoring chance, they have to bury it because they don’t come often against the Royals. In the third period Saturday, with the score tied at 1, the Komets had a 2-on-0 rush and Mike Embach was stopped by goaltender Riley Gill, who seconds later stopped Embach on a breakaway.
That’s just something you have to bury, Graham said. You bury that, and you probably get the win.
The ECHL’s regular-season scoring champion, Fort Wayne forward Brandon Marino (88 points), has a series-best 12 shots but no goals and one assist.
Embach, Chris Auger and Aaron Clarke, who each scored at least 24 goals in the regular season, have combined for one goal and six shots in the series.
Reading’s offensive stars have had similar struggles. Domenic Monardo, Yannick Tifu and Ryan Cruthers, who combined for 62 goals in the regular season, have no goals and nine shots in the series.
The next three games are at the Coliseum – Thursday, Friday and Sunday – and while Fort Wayne doesn’t want to sacrifice its defense, the goal moving forward is clear.
We’ve got to shoot more pucks, Danis-Pepin said.