ORLANDO, FLA – When a hockey team is on a hot streak, it seems like the puck is following them around, every pass is tape-to-tape and every little deflection of a shot finds the back of the net. When a team is mired in a slump, nothing seems to go right.
Right now, the Orlando Solar Bears find themselves in a slump that has players, coaches and fans alike frustrated and looking for a way to build a winning streak. Saturday night at the Amway Center, Orlando lost its second straight (third overall at home) as the Fort Wayne Komets blanked the Solar Bears 3-0 in front of 6,883 fans. It was the fourth time in the last seven games that Orlando had been shutout by its opponent.
“I think we’re just snake bit right now. We’re getting our opportunities and that’s the most frustrating part,” Orlando head coach Drake Berehowsky said. “If at the start of the year you guys were to tell me that goals would be our problem, I would have said not a chance but it seems like it is now. We just can’t find the back of the net. Hopefully when one goes in a ton will go in and we’ll be able to turn this thing around.”
Playing once again with a lineup missing key players (Nick Petersen and Kyle Medvec did not dress), Orlando faced a Fort Wayne team that wanted to take the game to them. As they did Friday night, the Komets came out aggressively, out-shooting the Solar Bears 7-2 over the first seven minutes of the opening period. Solar Bears netminder Darcy Kuemper, playing in his second consecutive game, did all he could, continually making saves to keep the contest scoreless.
The Solar Bears played much better in the second half of the first, eventually winning the shots on net battle 12-11 but failing to put one past Effinger. Still, the momentum that seemed to be building was on Orlando’s side as the second stanza started. The crowd got into the game when Orlando’s Mike Liambas and Fort Wayne’s Kaleigh Schrock waged a vicious battle two minutes in that Liambas appeared to win.
Three minutes after the fight, the roof started caving in on the Solar Bears. It began when Caputi and Ryan Lasch had a two-on-one opportunity. Lasch got Kuemper to commit to his side before sliding a pass to Caputi who redirected it into the open side of the net.
The critical part of the period and the game came midway through the stanza. Because of a series of overlapping penalties, the Solar Bears found themselves facing a two-man disadvantage for almost a minute and a half. The penalty killers, as they have been doing for much of the season, rose to the occasion and kept the Komets off the scoreboard. 16 seconds after Orlando returned to full strength, Fort Wayne broke into the Solar Bears end. Lasch fed a pass to Matt Firman in the slot and Firman in turn got the puck to Jean-Michael Rizk. Rizk cut to the front of the Orlando net and got the puck just past the reach of Kuemper and tucked it home.
A little over two minutes later, Lasch and Caputi were at it again. This time Lasch took a shot that was partially blocked. It deflected to Caputi who put a shot on Kuemper (32 saves on 35 shots). Kuemper made the first save but Caputi poked the rebound home to make it 3-0.
“I thought we were taking the play to them. We had some guys involved in the play. They managed to poke the puck by (us) and they had some outnumbered rushes,” Berehowsky said. “It was a tough break but we were trying to force and we got caught forcing and trying to score goals.”
All that was left was whether Effinger could complete the whitewashing. Orlando pressed hard to get that first goal that they hoped would open the floodgates but Effinger had other ideas. He made two saves on Solar Bear captain Ryan Cruthers in quick succession six minutes into the third, continuing the home team’s frustration. The Solar Bears out-shot the Komets 10-7 in the final period but when the final buzzer sounded, they had failed to solve Effinger.
With the teams meeting again Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., Berehowsky said that his team needs to move on and focus on the next instead of worrying about the past.
“We’re not going to dwell on this. It’s a tough loss. We’re not happy about it but we have a game tomorrow (Sunday),” he said. “We’ve got to refocus and put our energy towards that. You can sit here and kick yourselves for the mistakes we made but we have to get ready for tomorrow’s game.”
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