UTICA, N.Y. – The Comets got their first serious test of the season Wednesday night when they faced off against their arch rivals, the Syracuse Crunch. The impressive victory against the Crunch propelled the Comets into uncharted territory, having never won three straight to start the season in the history of their existence as a franchise. The last time the Canucks AHL team won three straight to start the season, you’d have to go back to the 2012-13 season when their affiliate was the Chicago Wolves.
Facing off against the Comets Friday night are the reigning Calder Cup Champion Charlotte Checkers, who have alternated wins and losses to start the year. Most recently having defeated the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at home by a score of 4-1.
The Checkers’ current leader for scoring is the 21-year-old Morgan Geekie, whom the Hurricanes picked up in the third round of the 2017 entry draft. The Checkers’ special teams currently lead the Atlantic division.
By comparison, the Comets current scoring leader is the 26-year-old Reid Boucher, who’s goal Wednesday night put him in a tie for the AHL lead in points.
In stark contrast with the Checkers’ special teams, the Comets’ powerplay has struggled immensely. After three games, the Comets’ have had 15 powerplay opportunities, capitalizing for just one goal for, while giving up one short-handed.
The Comets’ current success has been driven entirely from the teams’ speed and aggressive forechecking at even-strength. In spite of the Checkers’ impressive special teams, the Checkers have been playing quite undisciplined hockey, having been caught short-handed 21 times in just four games played. Given the Comets’ powerplay woes, facing off against one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams might prove the difference-maker. The Comets will likely have to rely on their even-strength dominance to try to make it an unprecedented four straight to start the season.
Since We Last Met
During Wednesday’s game against the Crunch, the Comets saw Jonah Gadjovich leave the game early with an undisclosed injury. Utica Observer-Dispatch writer Ben Birnell reported that Gadjovich would be questionable for Friday’s game due to an “upper-body strain.”
The Starting Lineup
|Reid Boucher (#24)||Carter Camper (#19)||Kole Lind (#13)|
|Nikolay Goldobin (#77)||Lukas Jasek (#9)||Sven Baertschi (#47)|
|Justin Bailey (#95)||Francis Perron (#27)||Zack MacEwen (#15)|
|Seamus Malone (#17)||Wacey Hamilton (#36)||Vincent Arseneau (#18)|
|Guillaume Brisebois (#55)||Brogan Rafferty (#25)|
|Olli Juolevi (#48)||Jalen Chatfield (#5)|
|Josh Teves (#4)||Dylan Blujus (#8)|
|Michael DiPietro (G)|
|Jonah Gadjovich (IR)||Tyler Graovac (IR)||Carter Bancks (IR)||Stefan LeBlanc||Mitch Eliot||Dyson Stevenson|
The Comets had a bit of a slow start to start the first, with both teams spending the bulk of the first eight minutes playing end-to-end dump-and-chase hockey.
Things kicked into gear after a board battle in the Comets end that saw Boucher take a cross-checking minor.
The Comets penalty killers were facing off against the divisions best powerplay team, but they were unphased. The Comets suppressed the majority of the Checker’s shot attempts and got themselves several takeaways to spring forwards on short-handed breakaways.
Forty-five seconds after the Boucher penalty ended, the Comets opened the scoring, in a pretty hilarious sequence of events. The play started with a no-look pass from Brogan Rafferty to Carter Camper. Camper then sent a rink-wide pass, meant for Kole Lind that was picked up by Charlotte netminder, Alex Nedeljkovic. Unfortunately for Nedeljkovic, he had skated outside of the playable area, allowing Lind to steal and set-up a now crashing Camper for the one-timer goal
Things didn’t slow down for the Comets either. Four minutes after the Camper goal, Sven Baertschi led his line with some aggressive forechecking along the boards in the Checkers’ end. Baertschi’s work led to a Nikolay Goldobin steal of the puck and a cross-ice feed to a crashing Brogan Rafferty, who netted his first AHL goal on the play.
Nedjelkovic’s night came to a close just 30 seconds later. Another misplay of the puck behind Nedjelkovic’s net led to a Zack MacEwen takeaway and pass to Justin Bailey, who scored the Comets’ third unanswered goal in a row.
The Checkers weren’t happy with their play afterward, and the game began to get a bit chippy. After another Comets offensive play, Checkers forward, Clark Bishop got in a bit of a tilt with Josh Teves. Teves and Bishop both picked up roughing minors and put the game 4-on-4 for two minutes. During the 4-on-4, the Checkers appeared to regain some momentum but were again having their offense suppressed by superior Comets defending.
The second period was a bit slow going for the Comets to start. The Checkers spent the majority of the period in the Comets end pressuring.
Michael DiPietro was rock-solid throughout, making several clutch saves on the doorstep to keep the Checkers’ off the scoresheet.
With around six minutes left in the period, Zack MacEwen got in a tilt with Checkers’ defenceman, Derek Sheppard. The fight started after MacEwen took exception to the egregious cross-checking from behind by Checkers’ forward Max McCormick.
On the Comets second penalty kill of the night, the PK unit for the Comets once again did a great job of clogging up the Checkers’ shooting lanes.
Things once again went the Comets way after a weak pass by Morgan Geekie to Janne Kuokkanen got picked off by Reid Boucher. Boucher skated the puck around the diving Geekie and Kuokkanen to score the Comets’ first short-handed goal of the season.
Boucher’s sixth goal in four games seemed to give the Comets a bit of momentum to close out the period. The Euroline of Baertschi, Goldobin, and Lukas Jasek closed out the period with several steals and scoring chances.
Despite getting outshot nine-to-five, the Comets were solid defensively throughout. The Comets held a four-goal lead but would be starting the third short-handed due to an incredibly late holding penalty issued against Dylan Blujus.
To say the game went off the rails in the third would be an understatement.
After killing off the Blujus penalty that ended the second period, the Checkers began to aggressively throw everything but the kitchen sink at the rookie goaltender, DiPietro.
The Checkers pressure paid off when they scored their first of the night at the three-minute mark. The Comets did not wait long to answer back, however, as just 40 seconds later, the Euroline combined for an incredibly casual relay-goal from Baertschi.
Not to be outdone in rapid-fire scoring, the Checkers Eetu Luostarinen capitalized on a brutal turnover from Jalen Chatfield to score a mere 16 seconds after the Baertschi goal.
Three goals total in one minute, not a banner night for goaltending but an exciting one for fans of relentless goal-scoring!
After the Checkers’ second goal of the night, you’d have thought the pace would slow down, but no. This year’s Comets play a relentlessly aggressive, offensive game. After a couple of minutes of penalty killing, the Comets forward groups returned to firing on all cylinders to create scoring chances late.
With ten minutes remaining in the third, the Comets rattled off another three unanswered goals to secure an 8-2 victory.
Cody’s Three Stars
- Nikolay Goldobin – This was Goldobin’s second three-assist game in a row. He essentially has nothing to prove at the AHL level, his vision, creativity, speed, and skill at the AHL level is unmatched. I’m well aware of the logjam of wingers in the Canucks lineup, but what more does he have to do to try and earn a shot alongside Elias Pettersson?
- Dylan Blujus – Blujus picked up his second goal in as many games and dominated defensively tonight. It’s a shame that he might spend most of this season stuck behind a logjam of young prospects because he really is one of the Comets’ best defensemen. Canucks fans can take solace knowing that their young prospects are learning the way of the game from such a solid defender. Liked his contributions against the Checkers, and glad to see him have such success in back-to-back games.
- Reid Boucher – If not for the short-handed goal, then for the numerous offensive rushes he created from the wings alongside Kole Lind and Carter Camper. His ability to create offensive chances out of thin air makes him one of the Comets’ most valuable assets.
Honorable Mention: Sven Baertschi – Tonight, Baertschi played fast and physical hockey. He was a threat whenever he was on the ice tonight and a major reason why the Comets dominated so thoroughly.
The Comets Trajectory?
The Comets return to action Saturday night when they take on the division rival, the Rochester Americans. Puck drop is at 7:05 pm EDT / 4:05 pm PT.
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