11/23/19 – Utica Comets vs. Laval Rocket

Oh my goodness, look at this quick turnaround! The Comets are back at it in Laval to close out their weekend, hopefully, with a less embarrassing performance!

 

Friday was a game marred in the all too familiar sight of horrid defensive coverage, as the Comets went on to drop their eight loss of the month. Once, they stood as the leaders of the AHL’s North Division, now the Comets barely hang on to the final playoff spot in the division, with one of the worst past-ten records amongst their peers. The Binghamton Devils are close to the Comets with five losses in their past ten to the Comets six. Those same Devils who just beat the Comets in overtime this past Wednesday.

 

Just three wins separate the Comets from fourth place and last place in the division. With significant injuries happening on the regular with the Vancouver Canucks, its gut-check time for Utica as they desperately try to pick up points before there’s no stars left to play for them.

 

Saturday’s afternoon matchup was a curious one, after such putrid defending on Friday, the coaches had zero time to recalibrate. The solution? Sub-out the team’s most experienced defender in Dylan Blujus, and put Jalen Chatfield back with Ashton Sautner. That Chatfield/Sautner pairing, if you remember, was on the ice for two goals-against and none-for in the Comets embarrassing overtime loss to the Binghamton Devils this past Wednesday.

 

No clue how that will play out, but let’s take a look at the full starting lineup and get into Saturdays’ afternooner against the Laval Rocket!

 

THE STARTING LINEUP

 

LW C RW
Goldobin (#77) Hamilton (#36) Boucher (#24)
Bailey (#95) Camper (#19) Lind (#13)
Arseneau (#18) Jasek (#9) Perron (#27)
Gadjovich (#21) Taylor (#14) Stevenson (#26)
LD RD
Sautner (#6) Chatfield (#5)
Brisebois (#55) Rafferty (#25)
Teves (#4) Eliot (#52)
G
Michael Di Pietro

 

Rookie-goaltending-phenom, Michael Di Pietro, starts as Saturday’s back-to-back closer. Carter Bancks slides out of the lineup due to an injury picked up in Friday’s game. Jasek gets out of centering the fourth-line and pairs between Arseneau and Perron while Justin Taylor moves back into the lineup between Gadjovich and Stevenson. It’s a good thing that I’m less worried about the movement around the bottom-six than I am with the top-six.

Top-six remains mostly unchanged, but oh boy, do they ever need to get Hamilton out of that trio. Especially after his week performance Friday.

 

RE: INJURY REPORT

 

Injury Report
Seamus Malone (arm) Olli Juolevi (not the knee) Carter Bancks

 

Healthy Scratches
Richard Bachman Stefan LeBlanc Tanner Sorenson Dylan Blujus

 

1st period

 

Comets in Blue

 

 

The Score at the end of the 1st period: 1-0 Comets

 

Not a pretty period whatsoever, but the Comets do manage to score on one of their six recorded shots-on-goal. Laval was controlling the pace of play over the opening twenty minutes as they went on to outshoot the Comets, with eleven of their own. The number of odd-man rushes is flat out ridiculous at this point. Comets getting caught playing too deep on breakout attempts way too often. It’s kind of mind-blowing that this problem has been allowed to fester all season, given that the Comets head-coach used to be the defensive coach for the Syracuse Crunch. On that note, it’s worth noting that while Cull was the defensive coach for the Crunch, through 2013-14 to 2016-17, the Crunch were outscored every single season with the lone exception being Cull’s final year with the organization when they made it to the Calder Finals. In the two years that Cull has been the head coach of the Comet’s, they’ve finished both seasons with a negative goal differential. After a hot-start in October, this might not have been a concern, but with nothing changing to this team’s defensive play, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they end up in the positive at the conclusion of this season.

 

2nd Period

 

 

The Score at the end of the 2nd period: 2-2 Tie

 

See my comments on the odd-man rushes and defensive coverage. Nothing’s changed this period. Comets get outshot fourteen to nine as they give up two straight goals. Pray, the Comets figure it out and get back on the scoresheet.

3rd period

 

 

The stalwart goaltending of Michael Di Pietro ends the Comets three-game losing streak. There are still so many problems to be figured out for this club. Fortunately, they have until Wednesday to sort out the issues. Goalscoring doesn’t appear to be the issue anymore, but oh boy, that defensive positioning needs a complete overhaul if this team wants to make an actual run to the Calder Cup playoffs.

 

Final Score: 4-2 Utica Comets

 

Scoresheet

 

Period Team Goalscorer Primary assist helper type
1st Utica Jonah Gadjovich Kole Lind Carter Camper 5v5
2nd Utica Nikolay Goldobin Carter Camper Kole Lind ppg
2nd Laval David Sklenicka Gustav Olofsson Matthew Peca 5v5
2nd Laval Riley Barber Matthew Peca Otto Leskinen 5v5
3rd Utica Nikolay Goldobin Mitch Eliot Reid Boucher 5v5
3rd Utica Nikolay Goldobin Justin Bailey EN

 

Takeaways

 

  • Wasn’t pretty by any stretch, but the Comets eke out two points off the backs of strong play from Michael Di Pietro, Jonah Gadjovich, Lukas Jasek, and Nikolay Goldobin.
  • Defense is atrocious, and I’m not sure what the Comets can do, barring some kind of trade that gets more responsible d-men into the lineup. Currently, the Comets have six defensemen who do everything in their power to move the puck up the ice. Philosophically, this is something I can get behind. I am all for the next wave of prospects being guys who can actually contribute offensively. Something the Canucks have struggled immensely to get from their blueline prospects. I can’t, however, accept every defensive prospect spending their nights, sacrificing their positioning and backchecking efforts, for the sake of entering the opponent’s zone for a low-percentage shot on goal. If this is a coaching philosophy, then I admire their faith in this rookie d-corps, but they need to address their piss-poor positioning if they can’t generate anything other than low-% scoring chances.
  • Michael Di Pietro once again stands on his head for this team. MDP ended his night with a 0.953 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against-average. The Comets arguably should have lost tonight, but the rookie goaltender is doing everything in his power to keep the Comets in these games. Comets were outshot 18 to 11 over the final twenty minutes. Over the final five minutes of the third period, the Rocket registered eight shots on goal before Goldobin’s empty-netter. I’m genuinely curious what that number will turn into when I do my CORSI tracking tomorrow. MDP’s a stud, get him more starts
  • Francis Perron was left off the scorecards but he had an impressive game. Had tonnes of scoring chances that either went wide of the net or ended up getting blocked by the Laval defenders. When the line shuffling began, and when Arseneau went down, he started getting time with Justin Bailey, and he and Kole Lind looked dynamic on multiple passing plays. Bailey has struggled immensely over the past couple games, but Perron appeared to reel Bailey back to reality by having himself be the playmaker and driver in the offensive zone. Bailey wasn’t wasting the Comets time by skating himself into poor shooting lanes ad nauseam.
  • Dyson Stevenson may have ended the night with a -1 on the +/- chart, but he had a sneaky impressive game. Besides tuning up Michael Pezzetta, Stevenson showed off some good vision, speed, and creativity in the offensive zone, which resulted in a couple solid scoring chances for the fourth-line. Liked his progression with the Comets this season, could be another Arseneau-like progression to his game where he isn’t just a meathead out there to get in dumb fights.
  • Lukas Jasek had a great game tonight despite not winding up on the scorecards. He was relied on heavily once the line shuffling began, as he got flipped from the third-line center position alongside Arseneau and Perron, into the first-line center position with Boucher and Goldobin. I thought Jasek looked his best tonight, he was sharp in the defensive end, breaking up many of the Rocket’s scoring chances before they developed. Jasek displayed the same chemistry with Goldobin that they had previously shown, earlier this season. Hopefully, his performance tonight slots him into the first-line center role moving forward.
  • Brogan Rafferty is somewhat an enigma amongst the defensemen. He has moments of poise that make you think NHL caliber d-man, and then he has moments where you wonder how he made it this far? Rafferty’s issue has always been his willingness to step up into the offensive zone with the puck to create offense, more often than not, Rafferty will get caught up in the offensive zone and cheat on his defensive responsibilities. His 11 points in 19 games played will lend credence to the idea that it’s worth it. That style, however, has its drawbacks, and a habit of cheating on your coverage won’t lead to NHL ice time. He had just a few noticeable defensive gaffes tonight. I almost want to say that he toned down how much time he was spending driving towards the net. He’s still a fun player to watch. Yet, for his development’s sake, he’s going to have to quickly establish himself as the Comet’s most reliable two-way defender at even-strength. A big ask for a player who turns 25 at the end of this season. Troy Stecher, for example, is just one year older.
  • Also, Rafferty doesn’t get used on the penalty-kill. I can only assume, not being on the PK is due to him being legally blind in one eye? There are many moments each night where you wonder if he outright didn’t see the puck, or an opponent, or a pass, or a shooting lane, so it would make sense that Cull wouldn’t trust him in an odd-man situation, like the PK. Still, a big proponent of guys getting called up to the show has been because they’ve displayed an ability to be used on the penalty kill. Not sure where Rafferty sits on Travis Green’s depth chart if he can’t use him there.

 

Comets Three Stars

  • Michael Di Pietro
  • Nikolay Goldobin
  • Jonah Gadjovich

 

The Comets Trajectory?

 

The Comets return Wednesday night when they face off against the Syracuse Crunch at home. The Comets haven’t won a home game since October 30th, so they need to show some desperation and impress the Utica faithful with a win.

 

If you want more Comets coverage from yours truly, you can now find MORE of my writing at thesinbin.net

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