A week ago, the Fort Wayne Komets were on a 26-9-2 tear and didn't want to change a thing. Following this weekend, they have to take another look at what's available before Tuesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline.
After Sunday's 3-2 defeat by Port Huron, the Komets have a losing streak for the first time in 2006. They lost Saturday despite out-shooting Quad City 48-31 and despite out-shooting Port Huron 49-14. Flags also blocked at least another 10 shots on goal.
Except for the fact that they were playing Port Huron, lately the worst team in the United Hockey League, the Komets might have had an excuse. Forwards P.C. Drouin (22 goals), Lance Galbraith (20 goals) and Matt Hunter (7 goals) didn't start because of injuries, and then Jonathan Goodwin (24 goals) left the lineup early in the first period with a broken nose. That meant that Colin Chaulk (20 goals) was the only Komet with at least 20 goals.
The Komets were playing with 14 skaters, but Port Huron has been playing with 14 or less for most of the last month. Goaltender Jeremy Symington's chest made 47 saves for the Flags, while Kevin St. Pierre lost to a Port Huron team for the first time in his three years as a Komet covering 13 games.
Drouin, Hunter and Goodwin should be back in the lineup by Friday, and the Komets hope to find out how bad Galbraith's knee injury is today. He's out for at least two-to-three weeks and possibly the rest of the season.
“We're going to have to work harder at getting somebody in now just because of Galbraith,'' Komets General Manager David Franke said. ``We'll see what's available. Nobody is going to trade anybody halfway decent unless they get something good in return. Maybe we can talk to a couple of the teams that aren't looking very good for the playoffs, and see if we can work a deal with them.''
Without Galbraith and Goodwin, the Komets turn into a perimeter team. Opponents will let them shoot as often as they like from outside as long as no one is screening the goaltender. Port Huron was content to just flip the puck out of the zone the entire third period, waiting for the Komets to come back and try again from downtown. The Komets worked hard but their style helped Port Huron more than themselves.
Komets coach Greg Puhalski said he'd prefer to find another defenseman to give him seven to work with instead of the current six. Usually, it's easier for a defenseman to play forward if necessary than for an extra forward to play defense. Each team is allowed only 19 players on the active roster, one more than the game roster.
“As long as I've been here, the team hasn't really made a lot of changes the last four years,'' Komets captain Chaulk said. “It's really hard for me to speculate. I'm sure every team is trying to make themselves better, and I'm sure we're trying to do the same.''
There might be a much bigger problem for the Komets, though. Fort Wayne is now a pitiful 2-16-0 when the opponent scores first and 0-16-1 when trailing after the second period. That lack of mental toughness gets teams killed in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think it's just a mindset,'' defenseman Troy Neumeier said. “When we do get down by one or in the third period, everybody is more individualistic than team-oriented. More times than not, it's not going to work that way. Turnovers start coming and then everybody gets all out of position because one guy is trying to do everything, and the other guys don't know what he's doing. Everybody becomes all boggled up after that.''
It won't matter what the Komets can get in trades if they can't learn to win a few comebacks. That's not something one or two new players can fix, but has to be a total team effort — no matter who is or isn't playing.