UTICA, N.Y. – After an undefeated run through October, the Comets looked to begin a double-header weekend with their ninth straight win in an inter-conference battle against the Providence Bruins.
The Bruins came into Fridays’ match-up against the Comets with a fair bit of momentum. Having ended a two-game losing streak with an impressive four-three victory over the Rochester Americans.
To keep the win-streak alive, the Comets will have to once again depend on the quality goaltending of their dynamic duo, Zane McIntyre and Michael Di Pietro. The Comets goaltenders both sit in the top ten of AHL goaltenders for both goals-against-average and save percentage.
By comparison, the Bruins goaltending trio of Max Lagace, Dan Vladar, and Kyle Keyser, all sit in the bottom twenty of AHL goaltending for both goals-against-average and save percentage. Granted, the Bruins have three games in hand on the Comets.
Still, even with those games in hand, the Bruins double the Comets in goals allowed. The Bruins currently let in an average of 2.7 goals-against per game, while the Comets allowed in just 1.75 goals-against per game.
Given the Comets blistering offense to start the season, it’s safe to say that goaltending for the Bruins would be the difference-maker in Friday’s action.
The concern for the Comets would be whether they could get their offensive mojo going again in the wake of Sven Baertschi’s absence from the lineup. The line shake-ups last Saturday nearly undid the Comets in their game against the Binghamton Devils. However, the impressive defensive efforts from the team’s top pair of Olli Juolevi, and Oscar Fantenberg, combined with the standout offensive performances from Francis Perron and Baertschi, were enough to thwart the Binghamton onslaught.
SINCE WE LAST MET
As previously mentioned, the Canucks called up winger Baertschi late last night after placing Michael Ferland on LTIR. Ferland was sent back to Vancouver to be examined by doctors after sustaining a concussion against the LA Kings. Baertschi is unlikely to be returned to the Comets, due to him needing to pass-through waivers for return. The Comets will take the eight victories they got while having Baertschi in the lineup. Those 16 points early in the season could be the difference-maker when it comes to making the Calder Playoffs in April.
THE STARTING LINEUP
On top of the absence of Baertschi, the Comets would be without their number defacto number one center, Carter Camper, who, according to Utica Observer-Dispatch writer, Ben Birnell, was suffering from an upper-body strain before Friday’s action.
|Boucher (#24)||Jasek (#9)||Goldobin (#77)|
|Bailey (#95)||Perron (#27)||Lind (#13)|
|Bancks (#34)||Hamilton (#36)||MacEwen (#15)|
|Arseneau (#18)||Malone (#17)||Stevenson (#26)|
|Juolevi (#48)||Fantenberg (#7)|
|Brisebois (#55)||Rafferty (#25)|
|Teves (#4)||Chatfield (#5)|
|Michael Di Pietro|
|Jonah Gadjovich||Tyler Graovac||Carter Camper|
|Stefan LeBlanc||Dylan Blujus||Richard Bachman||Mitch Eliot|
Despite the high shot totals for both teams, the game itself was surprisingly quite dull.
The Comets forward groups struggled to find chemistry through most of the 60-minute affair. While the defensive pairs looked out of sorts as repeated turnovers and giveaways in the Comets end resulted in the teams opening goal for Providence.
After five minutes of relatively uneventful hockey to start the period, the Comets had a spectacular defensive collapse that resulted in the game’s opening goal. The play began after a defensive zone draw in the Comet’s end. Rookie defenceman, Brogan Rafferty, started off the collapse first, when he fanned on a break-out pass from behind the Comets goal-line. The miscue resulted in three Providence players pressuring he and his partner, Guillaume Brisebois, along the end-boards. Forward, Reid Boucher, aided the two in regaining control of the puck, only to have Brisebois rinse-and-repeat Rafferty’s efforts, with a failed breakout pass attempt of his own. This time, Rafferty was able to step in and bail-out Brisebois by recovering the puck and getting an outlet pass to Boucher at center ice. Boucher, unfortunately, had the puck slapped off of his stick by Cam Hughes onto the stick of Zach Senyshyn’s. Senyshyn then waded towards the net of rookie netminder Di Pietro for a rifle of a wrist-shot over the shoulder of his blocker side.
All in all, this comedy of errors was symbolic of the Comet’s performance against Providence through-out the remainder of the game. With the Utica Comets repeatedly attempting to make things happen offensively, only to end up taking several steps backward off of little mistakes.
A regular play that would best exemplify the team’s struggles tonight would be the following zone-entry from Russian winger, Nikolay Goldobin.
On the play, Goldobin finds himself with the puck at center ice with plenty of time and space. Goldobin slowly wades into the offensive zone, while simultaneously drawing four Providence players to his side of the ice. Goldobin then reaches back around his two immediate checks to send a tape to tape pass to Lukas Jasek. Instead of driving to the net with speed in a one-on-one battle, Jasek hits the breaks and backhands a pass to a crashing Brisebois. Brisebois now has neither space nor time to gain control of the pass to attempt a shot, and Goldobin’s efforts go to waste.
Another example would be Providence’s second goal of the night.
Before the goal, the Comets were attempting to set up control in the Bruins zone. The forechecking of Kole Lind and Justin Bailey was successful as they managed to fish the puck back to the defenceman, Fantenberg. Unfortunately, the Bruins, Joona Koppanen, was quick to react with a poke check to give himself a breakaway. Racing down the left-wing, Koppanen ripped a shot off the right shoulder of Di Pietro that sailed high into the air. A lack of communication between Juolevi and Di Pietro resulted in the two colliding outside of Di Pietro’s crease, as both tried to glove the puck out of the air. The puck was inadvertently gloved down right onto Koppanen’s stick, as he wrapped around the net for the easy empty-net goal.
Again, some things are done right, only to be undone by repeated little mistakes that made things comically worse.
This summary is focusing heavily on the little things, but that isn’t to say it was all doom and gloom throughout the evening. However, it was evident in many instances against the Bruins that the Comets team was hurting without their number one center and their bonafide NHL scoring winger in Baertschi.
To make matters worse, during the second period, Boucher was seen ending a shift holding his knee gingerly. Boucher attempted to skate through the pain during several tv timeouts, but he did not return for the third period. Boucher’s absence, coupled with Baertschi’s meant the Comets were without their two top scorers facing a two-goal deficit heading into the third.
The remaining twenty minutes were much more competitive for the Comets. They managed to get themselves a 5-on-3 powerplay after a holding penalty to Trent Frederic was followed by a slashing penalty to Josiah Didier.
The Comets young forward groups were unable to crack the defense of the Bruins, as Lagace turned away seven shots throughout the extended three-minute-long powerplay.
After being unable to capitalize on their opportunities, there was an air of frustration at the Adirondack Bank Center, as the Comets began resorting heavily on individualistic play in an attempt to try and muster any meaningful offense.
The clock wound down on this one to give the Comets their first shutout loss of the season.
This kind of result was bound to happen eventually. The roster additions of Baertschi, Gaudette, Fantenberg, and Goldobin have always been a luxury for the Comets. It was only a matter of time before call-ups and injuries depleted the team of these luxuries. The compounding injuries to the teams go-to AHL players complicate things short-term. Tyler Graovac and Camper were signed to be the team’s one-two punch at the center position, and now the team looks to be without both for the immediate future.
Looking ahead, the question going forward will be whether this young Comets group can find their goal-scoring touch in the absence of the key forwards that led them to the top of the league in goals-for.
CODY’S THREE STARS
- Nikolay Goldobin was playing with a fire under him tonight. I’m sure the news of Baertschi’s call-up was a major motivating factor for Goldobin as he looks to get himself one more chance to crack the Canucks lineup.
- Zack MacEwen started his night on the third line with Carter Bancks and Wacey Hamilton, generating scoring chances. Eventually, ending his night playing with Goldobin and Jasek, creating the team’s most dangerous scoring chances of the entire game. Was the Comets face-off man tonight whenever they were in the offensive zone and won the majority.
- Justin Bailey did everything he could to generate scoring chances for the Comets, but luck was not on his side as Lagace came up huge on multiple occasions to stop his relentless, heavy rushes on goal.
The Comets Trajectory?
The Comets return to action Saturday night when they face off against the Rochester Americans. The Americans are coming off of a 4-2 home victory over the Binghamton Devils. Puck drop is at 7:05 pm EDT / 4:05 pm PT.
If you want more Utica Comets coverage, you can always visit The Comets Harvest for a more detailed look into each Comets game!
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