The Utica Comets are inside the final 20 games of the season, and holy guacamole, do they have a month in store for them!
Two 3-in-4’s to start the month, then a Tuesday game that immediately follows a double-header weekend. Afterwards, it’s a triple header, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, mid-month, concluding with two more 3-in-4’s at the close of March and start of April.
Did I mention that only nine of those thirteen games are against divisional opponents? Meaning, the Comets can’t afford to slip up anywhere this month. A losing streak at any point this month could mean a freefall out of a Calder Playoff spot.
Hot off the heels of a disappointing drubbing by the Laval Rocket, the Comets will start this month against the North Divisions, second-place, Rochester Americans, an all too familiar foe of the farms.
The Comets’ last game against the Amerks was an interesting one. Despite getting thoroughly out-attempted at 5-on-5, the Comets managed to earn two big points via the shootout.
There is an asterisk on the game, in that, the Comets arguably should have won in regulation. The referees missed a blatant trip against Sven Baertschi as he drove with the puck towards the empty-net. The non-call denied the Comets an automatic empty-netter goal-for, and on the ensuing 6v5, the Amerks managed to score in the final 28 seconds to force extra-time.
By no means did the Comets play a clean game against the Amerks. Getting out-attempted more than two-to-one across all-strength-situations means the team was basically in survival mode all game.
Out-attempted two-to-one is the common thread between all of the Comets/Amerks matchups this season.
Out of their seven-game head-to-head this season, the Comets have out-attempted the Amerks at 5-on-5, wait for it,
No surprise, the only thing that has been separating wins from losses in this seven-game series, is goaltending.
The Comets are already seeing what can happen if they ride their goalie too hard. Mikey Di Pietro was making his ninth straight start for the Comets against Laval, pairing that with a blatantly lethargic Comets team in front of him, was a breeding ground for disaster.
Perhaps the past few days off has allowed the Comets to refill the stamina bars. Well, at least we hope they have because with two teams nipping at their heels for the third and fourth-place playoff spot, they can’t afford any more performances like they had against Laval. Its Crunch time. But not literally Crunch time, because it’s actually Amerk time …you know what, you get the idea! Let’s get into tonight’s matchup!
THE STARTING LINEUP
|Baertschi (#47)||Camper (#19)||Boucher (#24)|
|Lind (#13)||Hamilton (#36)||Bailey (#95)|
|LeBlanc (#3||Stevens (#16)||Perron (#27)|
|Malone (#17)||Graovac (#44)||Stevenson (#26)|
|Petgrave (#22)||Rafferty (#25)|
|Sautner (#6)||Blujus (#8)|
|Teves (#4)||Eliot (#52)|
|Michael Di Pietro|
|Vinny Arseneau (done for the season)||David Pope (concussion)||Lukas Jasek (lower-body)||Carter Bancks (lower-body)||Olli Juolevi (hip soreness)||Jonah Gadjovich (illness)|
|Nikolay Goldobin (veteran)|
So Stefan LeBlanc gets to slide back into the lineup, and impressively, moves into the top-9 alongside Stevens and Goldobin. Like the makeup of the line, a strong forechecking presence from LeBlanc could be a great compliment.
Goldobin gets the veteran scratch, which, I’m sure, is delightful for him.
Pretty surprised that Eliot and Teves can barely crack a healthy Comets roster, but when the Comets are down two d-men, they get paired together. It makes me question if its a matter of trust with Trent Cull, or if its a matter of skill. Both Teves and Eliot have looked perfectly adequate in the AHL this season. Obviously, when they are healthy, the Comets’ third pair is a tough spot in the lineup to crack. It makes me wonder why Eliot and Teves weren’t sent down to Kalamazoo to play out the entire season to get ample ice-time.
Have to feel for Olli Juolevi, man, injuries have just completely fucked up this kids’ career path. Hip soreness for the second/third time this season is a bad look.
Comets in their Away whites
- Comets controlling play early throughout the opening two-minutes, not much for shot-attempt generation, but Comets doing well at moving the puck up into the offensive zone
- Reid Boucher (#24) capitalizes on a bad Amerks’ giveaway from behind Rochester’s goal line and quickly weaves towards the net of Andrew Hammond for a scoring chance
- Rochester capitalizing on their limited time in the Comets zone and start peppering Di Pietro with shot-attempts from outside
- Stefan LeBlanc (#3) holding the puck inside the Amerks zone, only to get muscled down to the ice by William Borgen
- Dangerous scoring chance for Rochester’s CJ Smith after he gets around a sleepy Seamus Malone (#17) at the Comets blue line. Smith walks into the slot and rifles a shot, but Di Pietro makes the stop
- Brogan Rafferty (#25) with a slick deke at center before jumping up into the offense to catch a pass from Sven Baertschi (#47), and gets a perfect centring pass to Reid Boucher (#24), but he’s shoved down to the ice by Andrew MacWilliam
- Stefan LeBlanc (#3) crashes the net to catch the rebound of a bouncing shot from Francis Perron (#27). LeBlanc one-times one over the right pad of Hammond, but Hammond just barely gets a piece of his stick on the puck to deny the glorious opportunity
- Rasmus Asplund showing off his speed to go end-to-end into the Comets zone
- Dylan Blujus (#8) races back into the Comets zone to beat CJ Smith to an Amerk dump-in. Ashton Sautner (#6) under pressure, struggles to make a clean outlet pass. Comets get a break when a centring pass from behind the goal line goes out past the blue line
- Rochester almost gets on the board with a tap-in attempt from the crease of Di Pietro’s net, but the Rochester forward whiffs on the tap
- GOAL – UTICA – 1-0 Comets: John Stevens (#16) sets up Stefan LeBlanc (#3) for the tap-in goal to get the Comets on the board! What did I say about the active forecheck that LeBlanc will provide this line? After an exhausting battle along the Amerks endboards, Casey Nelson stumbles with the puck in the slot, accidentally pushing the puck over to Stevens. Stevens backhands the puck to LeBlanc (#3) in the slot, and this time, LeBlancs one-timer gets past Hammonds blocker side.
- Kole Lind (#13) seemingly overhandles the puck along the Amerks blue line, but manages to keep it in the zone with a cross-ice pass to Justin Bailey (#95), who cuts to the slot for a twisting shot on goal
- Fourth line, the recipient multiple fortunate puck bounces right into the empty slot of the Amerks, but no one is there to capitalize
- Mikey fans on his clearance from behind his net, fortunately, the Amerks aren’t quick enough to capitalize on the error
- Di Pietro with a great stop on John Gilmour from the Comets left circle
- Rochester pressuring late, ending the period outshooting the Comets 13-to-9
The score at the end of the 1st period: 1-0 Comets
That was a really fast-paced period of hockey, with zero penalties issued and only a few couple timeouts.
Comets still struggle mightily against the speed and size of the Amerks squad. The Comets do try to match the physicality brought by the Amerks, but, as you could see in a couple of those streamables, Amerks play a heavy game that even the veterans and toughest Comets players can’t match.
Comets still electing to play that heavy four-deep in the o-zone style that gives opponents a jarring number of odd-man rushes-against.
- Comets ice the puck to start the period, giving the Amerks an offensive zone draw
- Example of the Comets playing four-deep in the offensive zone, and immediately allowing an odd-man-rush and multiple shot-attempts
- Brogan Rafferty (#25) attempts an outlet pass, but it takes an odd bounce off the glass and into enemy hands. Rafferty gets a second chance before finding Reid Boucher (#24) at center-ice. Boucher angles for Carter Camper (#19), who attempts the cross-ice pass to Sven Baertschi (#47), but the pass is denied
- Eric Cornel cuts through the middle of Comet territory to open up space for a pass to Dalton Smith for the one-timer. Di Pietro gets out the right pad to make the stop
- Josh Teves (#4) runs some blatant interference on Dalton Smith, and the Comets are off to the penalty-kill
- GOAL – ROCHESTER – 1-1 Tie: 28 seconds into the Teves penalty, Jean-Sebastien Dea backhands a pass to Taylor Leier in the high-slot, who beats out John Stevens (#16) for a backhander over the glove of Di Pietro. Write us a postcard from Kalamazoo, Josh, because I bet Cull won’t forget that one
- Comets playing aggro on a rush inside the Amerks zone despite Francis Perron (#27) getting shoved around by Andrew MacWilliam. MacWilliam eventually kicks the puck past the Amerks blue line, sending Dalton Smith in on a breakaway opportunity against Di Pietro
- Second period has been almost exclusively spent in the Comets zone
- Comets with a couple long-shots from the point around the 12:30 mark
- Comets fourth-line again getting hemmed into their end
- Josh Teves (#4) with a diving effort to poke the puck to Seamus Malone (#17) for the dump-in
- Di Pietro with a glove save on a snapping shot from John Gilmour after he dekes around a lunging Francis Perron (#27)
- My back genuinely hurts watching the Comets collectively try to defend by reaching out, bent at the waist, with their stick
- Justin Bailey takes a slashing penalty and the Comets are back to the penalty-kill
- Ashton Sautner (#6) drops down at the crease of Di Pietro’s net to disrupt Jean-Sebastien Dea’s shot from the doorstep
- Reid Boucher (#24) steals the puck on the PK and manages a backhand pass that goes through the legs of Hammond and out the other side
- Comets successfully kill off Bailey’s penalty
- Amerks are just toying with the Comets in regards to the way they move the puck around for shots on goal
- Casey Mittelstadt overskates the puck behind the net of Hammond, and Francis Perron (#27) capitalizes to wheel the puck to the bottom of the right circle for a shot off of the post
- Brogan Rafferty (#25) blows a tire at the point, springing the Amerks on a two-on-one. Great backcheck from Justin Bailey (#95), but an even better save from Di Pietro
- Remi Elie attempts a backhander centring feed to Dea on the doorstep of Di Pietro’s net, but Mikey gets his stick on the pass to prevent the scoring chance
- Comets generate a few fleeting shots on net in the waning minute, but this period was all Rochester
The score at the end of the 2nd period: 1-1 Tie
Yikes, that was a rough period of hockey displayed by the Comets. After 40-minutes of action, the Comets find themselves getting outshot 30 to 17. Rochester is a volume team, who uses their speed and size to open up space for shots on goal. Utica is an opportunistic team, who uses their speed and vision to capitalize on errors for scoring chances. Unfortunately, Utica’s approach to generating offense requires them to actually be in the offensive zone. Rewatch that streamable of the Comets standing still as the Amerks generate shots towards the net. The Comets fade the second they don’t regain the puck in their zone.
- The lack of movement to attack the opposing puck-carrier in the d-zone is certainly a look
- AHLtv is collapsing in on itself like a dying star, so no promises the third period gets fully recapped
- Matt Petgrave (#22) attacks the puck carrier in the o-zone, and it directly results in Reid Boucher (#24) stealing the puck for a shot-attempt
- Seamus Malone (#17) racing back into the Comets d-zone to break up a shot-attempt from Jacob Bryson
- Josh Teves (#4) gets his stick in the way to intercept a shot towards the net of Di Pietro. Remi Elie catches the deflected puck behind the net and walks to the left circle for a backhander that takes a few bounces before landing in Di Pietro’s crease
- Jacob Bryson drives hard into the Comets zone on an odd-man rush for the Amerks. Di Pietro comes up with a massive coast-to-coast save as Bryson went cross-ice to Zach Redmond for the one-timer
- Tyler Graovac (#44) drives into the offensive zone for an odd-man rush, as he drops a pass to Dyson Stevenson (#26) in behind the Amerks defense. Stevenson wades into the crease of Hammonds net and elects to go forehand with his shot, but rips his shot high over the net
- Reid Boucher (#24) intercepts a pass and drives down the right-wing for a shot on Hammond
- Chaotic puck-possession displayed by both teams in the final ten minutes of this final period. Puck is on a yo-yo as both teams take turns stealing the puck off each-other sticks
- Comets attempting to imitate the Amerks approach of offense, and are throwing anything and everything towards the net of Hammond
- 5:30 left and momentum is starting to favour the Comets — Amerks looking tired after the extensive pressure dished out in the first two periods of play
- GOAL – UTICA – 2-1 Comets: The Comets third-period surge pays off, as Sven Baertschi (#47) plays give and go with Carter Camper (#19) before going backhand over the glove side of Andrew Hammond for his 13th of the year. Great puck movement from the Comets started by Ashton Sautner’s (#6) thread through traffic to get Baertschi inside the o-zone.
- A shot from Wacey Hamilton gets blocked at the Amerks blue line, nearly springing an odd-man rush for Rochester. Fortunately for the Comets, Remi Elie blows a tire to kill the opportunity
- Amerks pull Hammond for the extra attacker
- GOAL – UTICA – 3-1 Comets: Comets repel the Amerks pressure, as Brogan Rafferty (#25), Wacey Hamilton (#36), and Justin Bailey (#95) combine to move the puck around their end boards and out to Tyler Graovac (#44). Graovac walks the puck into the Amerks zone for the empty-netter and records his second AHL goal of the season.
- Comets withstand the early dominance of the Amerks as Mikey Di Pietro posts an incredible 36 save performance, earning the Comets a critical two-points against a division rival.
- Comets stay out on the ice post-celebration to give handshakes to Derek Sylvester, who I can only assume was retiring after this game.
Final Score: 3-1 Utica Comets
|1st||UTI||Stefan LeBlanc||John Stevens||—||5v5|
|2nd||ROC||Taylor Leier||Jean-Sebastien Dea||Jacob Bryson||PPG|
|3rd||UTI||Sven Baertschi||Carter Camper||Ashton Sautner||5v5|
|3rd||UTI||Tyler Graovac||Justin Bailey||Brogan Rafferty||EN|
- Comets pull the classic rope-a-dope, as they withstand 40-minutes of relentless Amerks offense to earn the win with some late-game heroics from the first line. Can’t understate enough how important Di Pietro was to the Comets in this game. Amazingly, Di Pietro was only the 2nd star of the night, while Sven Baertschi got the first-star for his game-winner.
- Di Pietro finished the game with a 0.973 save-percentage and a 1.00 goals-against-average. *larry-david-pretty-pretty-pretty-good.gif*
- Not a pretty game shot-attempt wise, but the Comets did admirably at moving the puck up-ice when they were able to gain possession of the puck. Against this fast Amerk team, however, they weren’t afforded many opportunities to strip the puck off their opponents. Don’t think the Comets want to end up in a playoff series against Rochester, because the Amerks clearly play a style of hockey that will dominate come playoff time.
- Underrated game for Dylan Blujus, who recorded a team-high of five shots on goal. I think he and Sautner looked, possibly, their best all season, and it might have to do with the fact that both were playing on their strong-side for a change.
- Speaking of shots on goal, Boucher looked fantastic in his first game back after an undisclosed illness. Dynamite on the penalty-kill as usual, he had moments of standing around waiting for the puck to happen upon him. However, that asterisk can get applied to every single Comets player tonight. Love his ability to steal the puck off opponents and create chances out of thin air. He wasn’t able to land on the scoresheet, but he still remains the team’s most potent threat in the o-zone with the puck on his stick.
- CTRL C+V my comments about Stefan LeBlanc’s play from a few games ago. Great effort, hustle, and forechecking presence that earned him the games first-goal of the night. With the Comets hamstrung by the veteran limit, and Brisebois/Chatfield up with the Canucks, I doubt Teves/Eliot’s positions are in jeopardy. A position that sucks for LeBlanc who’s opportunity has been thrown a wrench by having to play off-role. That being said, LeBlanc has performed above expectations in my eyes. Have ti imagine his performance of late has earned himself a full-time spot on the roster, whether that’s as a forward, or as a D-man.
- Still a bit concerned that the Comets have yet to figure out a gameplan to combat the Amerks. They’ve played eight games against each other now, and I don’t know if I’m confident that the next game won’t see the Comets getting caved-in for two of the three periods. The rope-a-dope worked tonight, but in a five-game playoff series, I don’t know if that’s something a team like this should bank on
- Graovac got the empty-netter, but boy, his skating sure does look rough still. I said after his last game that I wouldn’t harp on it. But he looked like he was skating in mud through much of tonight’s action. Probably just a reps thing where he’ll look more like himself, the more game-time he gets in.
- Francis Perron had an underrated performance playing alongside LeBlanc and Stevens. Perron’s had a tough season, what with the eye injury that forced him out of eleven games, then he took a puck to the head in practice that took him out of another five. Perron has speed, tenacity while displaying some decent offensive chops, but he’s only managed two goals and one assist in his last 20 games played. Perron’s contract expires at the end of this season, but sadly for him, I don’t know if his streaky production has been enough to warrant another look next year.
- Not on the Canucks, but Casey Mittelstadt is a really fun player to watch — had a couple of goofs behind the net in the Amerks zone, but his speed makes him such a massive threat whenever he blitzes into the o-zone. I don’t watch a lot of Sabres games, but I can’t imagine why his skills don’t translate into the NHL.
- I already said it, but I genuinely just feel bad that Olli Juolevi is, once again, dealing with lingering injuries. Alongside Brogan Rafferty, Juolevi posted the best shot-attempt differential at 5-on-5 in the Comets games against Rochester and Toronto last week. Reminding you that one of those games was another against Rochester, in which the Comets were out-attempt two-to-on at 5-on-5. Godspeed to the fragile Finn in his recovery.
Comets Three Stars
- Michael Di Pietro
- Stefan LeBlanc
- Dylan Blujus
The Comets Trajectory?
Comets return this weekend for a double-header road trip against David Ayers’ Charlotte Checkers, I won’t be on recap duty for the Friday game, however, as I’ll be meeting up with family whom I haven’t seen in over four years! So expect another Comets Harvest, for Saturday’s game only!