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K’s defense playing at faster pace

October 27, 2017 GMT

The Komets are skating faster, moving the puck without much delay, playing hockey at a more frenzied pace than usual.

And that’s been by design.

When coach Gary Graham and general manager David Franke put together their roster, they wanted to make sure they had faster skaters than last season, so they’d be more successful breaking the puck out of the defensive zone, avoid being caught flatfooted by opposing forwards and be equally dangerous at any area of the rink.

The change in philosophy is particularly evident among the defensive corps, where Ryan Culkin and Daniel Maggio were added, but there’s also been an emphasis on altering the mental approach to make sure everything is done with a certain level of rapidity and accuracy.

“It’s a lot faster than last year,” defenseman Cody Sol said. “The culture we brought in, with all the returning guys, we’re pushing the pace and the practices have been awesome. Guys are working hard. We’ve got (22) guys who want to be here and all (22) guys can be in the lineup any night. The competitive nature we have right now is making it into those games.”

The Komets (2-1-0), who play host to the Cincinnati Cyclones (0-1-1) at 8 p.m. today, got forwards Artur Tyanulin and Zac Larraza from the American Hockey League’s Tucson Roadrunners this week.

Tyanulin, a 20-year-old rookie assigned Thursday after his professional debut, totaled 24 goals and 85 points in 67 games last season with the Ottawa 67s and was a finalist for the Ontario Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Player award. He won championships with Russia’s under-16 and under-15 teams.

Larraza, 24, has played 46 AHL games and has totaled 29 goals and 49 points in 60 ECHL games with Manchester and Utah.

The Komets have outscored opponents 14-7 and it has started with the defensemen : Sol, Culkin, Maggio, Jason Binkley, Curtis Leonard, Bobby Shea and Ryan Lowney : who have combined for one goal, 11 points and 33 shots.

″(We’ve) started moving the puck and you could see that’s what we needed to do. We struggled with it last year,” Graham said. “We had a lot of left-handed shooting defensemen and that made it hard, a lot of guys playing on their off sides because you’re not on your forehand. You could see it affected us last year with harder forechecking teams.

“This year, we have three righties, three lefties and a healthy Ryan Lowney ready to step in, so we’ve got some balance with our D corps.”

The Komets are already dealing with minor injuries, including an undisclosed one to center Justin Hodgman.

Tonight is the first opportunity for Komets goaltender Michael Houser (2-0-0), who has stopped 44 of 48 shots, to face his former team.

Garrett Bartus (0-1-0) has stopped 20 of 23.

The Komets went 5-1-2 last season against the Cyclones, who have a league-low four goals and have been led by Eric Knodel’s one goal and two assists.

Fort Wayne has had since Saturday, a 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Mavericks, to continue fine-tuning its speed approach.

“I think a lot of it goes to the practices. Gary (Graham and assistant Ben Boudreau) both have been telling us to focus on the little things. If the ice is bad, he’ll understand that, but if guys are slacking a little bit or not bearing down, he’ll let them know,” said forward Garrett Thompson, who has two goals and four points. “That authority and that strictness is important.

“The practices we’ve had, even through training camp, there’s been a high standard held, and I think that’s resulting in (our) games right now.”

jcohn@jg.net