FORT WAYNE – The Komets’ top line of Brandon Marino, Chris Auger and Scott Fleming is capable of making picturesque plays. That’s a bit of the problem right now because, in the playoffs, those plays are hard to pull off.
That’s what the playoffs are about, Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said, when asked if his team had to play dirtier in the offensive zone. We have to simplify our game. We have to get pucks to the net, get bodies to the net. Collectively, as a group, we’ve gotten away from the game plan a little bit. It’s time for guys to look in the mirror, and I know the group will.
The Komets and Cincinnati Cyclones are tied at one game apiece in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals, which continue Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.
Marino, Auger and Fleming combined for two assists and a minus-8 rating in the 2-1 series-opening victory and Saturday’s 5-1 loss.
In the first-round, five-game upset of defending-champion Reading, the line combined for two goals, five points and a minus-5 rating, still way below the standard it set in the regular season.
The top line knows it must start holding the puck deep in the zone, using the forecheck and looking for grittier goals.
We’ll work so hard to get in the offensive zone and then I’ll turn around and maybe see a flash of Fleming in the slot and I’ll throw it away, Auger said.
Marino had a league-leading 88 points in the regular season and finished third in ECHL MVP voting. He was fourth with 30 goals.
Auger was fifth with 29 to go with 55 points, and Fleming had 16 goals and 49 points, eighth most among all rookies.
The Komets’ second line of Mike Embach, Shawn Szydlowski and Aaron Clarke has combined for nine goals, 18points and a plus-15 rating in the playoffs. It has done so by using its physicality to keep the puck away from opposing players and fighting for rebounds in front of the net.
Time and space isn’t what it is in the regular season. There’s less time and space to make plays. You have to be willing to hold on to the puck and play a gritty, greasy game, Graham said. It’s just the way it is in the playoffs. The guys who have been holding on to the puck, protecting the puck in the offensive zone, those are the guys who have been having success in the playoffs right now. You have to be willing to drive it in deep in the corners and go to work from there. It’s not going to be pretty all the time off the rush.
With only eight of the ECHL’s 21 teams still playing, all have great defenders and depth. The stars that can still find ways to score are the ones who lead their teams to success. Against Reading, the Komets held Domenic Monardo, Yannick Tifu and Ryan Cruthers to no goals and three assists. Now the Cyclones are giving that treatment to Marino, Auger and Fleming.
They are obviously very skilled players, and you have to be aware of them when they’re on the ice, Cincinnati’s Dan Eves said.
And while it’s easy to go for the pretty, cross-ice pass for a slap shot goal, it takes more desire to battle for pucks in the danger zones.
We’ve got to want it. We’ve got to want to have the puck a lot more. Our line is only as good as our possession, Auger said.