1/31/2020 – Utica Comets vs. Cleveland Monsters

IT ME!

I cannot believe how long it’s been since I last recapped a Comets game!

After a decent trip to Maui with family, in which I got the flu, crashed my rental car, and then no got sun for the final six days of the trip — I then had to go cross-country to the ice-cold tundra of Montreal, for work.

All told, I missed an entire month’s worth of game recaps — so, for that, my dear readers, I apologize.

The real apology goes out to my darling wife, who has been an absolute trooper since my return from Montreal. Why? Because I’ve done nothing with my free time but attempt to catch up on a month’s worth of shot-attempt data.

Now that the AHL’s All-Star break is over, the AHL schedule has resumed to normal, so my work-load of five games will bump up to seven games after this weekend! But it’s all necessary to further my work for the Harvest, and my newest venture as an associate freelancer for Passittobulis and his new spot at Vancouverisawesome.com!

 

January has been a weird one for the Comets. Despite outshooting their opponents (raw shots only, not attempts) in seven of their eleven games this past month, the Comets have a less than stellar record of five wins and seven losses.

A stretch that has seen players like Justin Bailey record three hat-tricks in four games played, and players such as Nikolay Goldobin, Brogan Rafferty, and Kole Lind step into the top-15 of AHL scoring.

Alas, there’s something off with this club.

The team still sits 2nd in goals-for and goals-for per-game, and despite not having all of the data yet, look to have put in significant work to improve their 5-on-5 shot output relative to their opponents.

However, the goaltending tandem of McIntyre and Di Pietro, are no longer posting save-percentages above 0.950, like they were to start the season.

In fact, the Comets save percentage has been on a steady overall decline since the season began.

McIntyre’s numbers have been freefalling, to the point where he’s now sitting with his worst regular-season AHL save-percentage and goals-against-average of his career.

Di Pietro has done admirably in his rookie season, but the rigours of the AHL appear to be taking their toll, as Di Pietro’s numbers have slowly seen him fall out of the top 20 of AHL goaltending.

He’s still top-5 in AHL rookie goaltending, so relax, I’m not trying to go in on him. I am merely pointing out that the Comets goaltending having a rough month has been a factor in the Comets spotty January record.

Another issue plaguing this team in 2020 appears to be related to their discipline or lack thereof. Through the first 34 games of the season, the Comets picked up 185 total infractions (including coincidental minors, majors and misconducts), in their past twelve games, the Comets have picked up an additional 70! The Comets now sit second in the Eastern Conference of the AHL for number of times spent short-handed.

The Comets special teams haven’t been able to keep up with this increased lack of discipline either. After once having a penalty-killing percentage top-three in the Eastern Conference, the Comets PK has dropped to the sixth-worst in the East. After giving up 26 powerplay goals through their first 34 games, the Comets have given up eleven in their past twelve in 2020; nearly one powerplay goal given up every single game this year.

In sumrary, it’s been a weird month, with some positives but some concerning negatives. Hopefully, the Comets can close out January with a win that ends their current four-game losing streak, thereby re-establishing themselves as one of the teams to beat in the AHL’s North Division.

The Canucks are currently dealing with the major-injury to Tyler Motte and the uncertainty of how Jay Beagle’s arm is holding up. Because of that, the team elected to call up Justin Bailey and Zack MacEwen for a shot in the Canucks bottom-six.

Zack MacEwen has generally been a non-factor for the Comets this season. Chalk it up to the constant yo-yo-ing between the two clubs, while not having a set-role with the Comets. Defensively, MacEwen has improved his positioning and work to suppress shot-attempts by opposing squads while on the ice. But his speed appears not to be what it was last season. I’ve yet to see one of those incredible backchecking efforts like we often saw last season, the kind that left the Canucks brass with no choice but to give him a look. Nonetheless, his work last season put him on the Canucks radar as a valuable call-up option, and they’ve rewarded with some healthy looks this season. Fingers crossed he can find a way to contribute some offence in a limited role.

Bailey, on the other hand, is a first time Canucks call-up, and he has been dynamite for the Comets second line as a speedy winger who can transition the puck up ice while providing significant firepower from the slot.

Although a bit streaky, Bailey’s three hat-tricks in four-games in early January couldn’t have come at a better time, as a visiting GMJB liked what we saw and couldn’t deny the guy his chance with the club.

Bailey had seen great success with Kole Lind as of late, and it’s great to see that the Canucks find themselves in a position to call-up player’s as a reward for their efforts. Although historically, Bailey hasn’t put it together in the NHL, it is hard to deny that his speed wouldn’t be a massive punch-up to the Canucks fourth-line. Maybe he can make it happen, I mean, Victor Olofsson is older than Bailey? So who knows! Late bloomers are a thing! Right?!

 

Tonight’s opponent are the North Divisions last-place team, the Cleveland Monsters. The monsters are in the midst of a similar rough January as the Comets, having won just three games in their last ten. The Monsters have the worst powerplay percentage in the division, but incredibly, the divisions best penalty kill! Normally, I’d say here that “the Comets would do best to stay out of the box in this one,” but I think they’ll be fine now that I’ve seen this stat, haha.

 

With all that catch-up out of the way, let’s take a look at tonight’s starting lineup!

 

THE STARTING LINEUP

 

LW C RW
Baertschi (#47) Jasek (#9) Goldobin (#77)
Perron (#27) Camper (#19) Lind (#13)
Malone (#17) Stevens (#16) Pope (#11)
Sorenson (#74) Bancks (#34) LeBlanc (#3)

 

LD RD
Sautner (#6) Rafferty (#25)
Juolevi (#48) Chatfield (#5)
Brisebois (#55) Blujus (#8)
G
Michael Di Pietro

 

INJURY REPORT
Wacey Hamilton (foot) Vincent Arseneau (concussion) Dyson Stevenson (ankle) Reid Boucher (hip) Jonah Gadjovich (undisclosed)

 

Lot of injuries since I’ve been away! Dylan Blujus got tied up with a player on a penalty kill and took a powerplay blast right to the chest that bruised a rib. Brutal. Brisebois had a broken finger-tip, Vinny Arseneau in concussion protocol after picking a fight with Mason Geertsen, and the teams de facto number one center during the injury wake, Wacey Hamilton, with a broken foot stemming from a blocked shot. Lot of size, and key penalty killers out of the Comets daily rotation, which no doubt has played into the Comets struggling penalty-kill. Hopefully, the returns of Blujus and Brisebois to the active roster will result in some better penalty-killing, should the team’s discipline fail them again.

 

Healthy Scratches
Richard Bachman Josh Teves Mitch Eliot

 

The bright side of these injuries is Carter Camper not getting shafted as a veteran scratch.

Stefan LeBlanc continues his run as the 12th Comets forward. This season, LeBlanc has done a great job playing off-role for the Comets. I’m sure this isn’t how he was hoping his sophomore season with the Comets to go, but it’s a crowded list of Canuck-signed D-men to earn playing time over.

 

1st period

 

Comets in White

 

 

The score at the end of the 1st period: 2-0 Comets

 

Couple blunders here and there that gave the Monsters some dangerous offensive drives, but overall, the Comets did well during the opening twenty for this one. Cleveland closes the first period leading in shots on goal with eight to the Comets seven.

 

2nd Period

 

 

The score at the end of the 2nd period: 2-0 Comets

 

Period was a snooze right up until the Rafferty and Blujus penalties when things got interesting. A gutsy penalty-killing effort from the Comets penalty killers, with special commendation to Olli Juolevi for showing zero regard for his body on multiple PK shifts. The latter half of the period was rough for the Comets, as they struggled mightily to hold the Monsters out of their end. This period certainly did not do the Comets any favours in regards to their on-ice shot-attempt metrics. MDP with a solid night so far to keep the Comets in the game. That save on Dano denied the Monsters a significant momentum building event. Comets incredibly registered six shots on goal to the Monsters nine. Shot-attempts are a completely different story, however, haha.

 

3rd period

 

 

Final Score: 3-0 Utica Comets

 

Scoresheet

 

Period Team Goalscorer Primary assist helper type
1st UTI Carter Bancks Tanner Sorenson 5v5
1st UTI Nikolay Goldobin Lukas Jasek Ashton Sautner 5v5
3rd UTI Nikolay Goldobin Kole Lind Brogan Rafferty PPG

 

Takeaways

 

  • Apparently, Jonah Gadjovich picked up an injury during the team’s morning skate. I have to say that it’s getting rather concerning how injury-prone Gadjovich is. His crash-bang style around the net certainly doesn’t help either. His injury tonight puts him at 29 man-games lost due to injury out of 123 games available to be played in over the last two seasons. 23% of the games he could’ve played in, he was out with injury.
  • Clips like this really make me wonder if Rafferty’s unforced errors are due to depth-perception issues stemming from his whole “blindness in one eye” thing. Mistakes like this are permissible at the AHL level when you’re managing to lead all AHL defensemen in points. Before this market goes nuts over how he’s a “sure-fire NHL defender,” I just thought I’d posit the following question. How would Travis Green react to a defenceman who occasionally passes to the opposing team, drop passes to nobody, or takes high-sticking penalties because his depth perception throws off his ability to stick-lift on backchecks? Food for thought really, I still love his skating and puck movement. But given how often we hear about, Travis Green not trusting Troy Stecher, it’s hard to envision him trusting someone who makes as many unforced errors through no fault of his hockey IQ., but due to physical limitations.
  • Pretty quiet night for most of the Comets. Standout games came from the defencemen and Di Pietro. The forward groups appeared to be struggling with chemistry through much of the affair at 5-on-5.
  • Jalen Chatfield had an excellent game. Liked his physicality, puck movement, and positioning throughout the night. I think he’s had a solid run since returning from the Canucks, even though the shot-attempt metrics do not paint that kind of picture of him whatsoever. Decent night, he and Juolevi have looked solid together as a pairing.
  • Speaking of OJ48, this kid’s a warrior. There are still massive concerns with his skating and pivoting ability. This deep into the season, I was hoping for some kind of marked improvement, but it’s just not there yet. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that he had a good game against Cleveland tonight, and was literally the difference-maker during the Comets penalty kills tonight
  • A lot of invisibility from the Comets forward groups, but I cannot fault them. New lines, awkward chemistry, late changes to the starting lineup, it’s a miracle they came out of this matchup with two points.
  • Michael Di Pietro was huge for the Comets tonight. First star and first AHL shutout. He was saved pretty hard by that baffling no-goal call from the ref’s, but regardless, he was huge for the Comets tonight — really impressive performance from him after a month of pretty “meh” showings.

 

Comets Three Stars

  • Michael Di Pietro
  • Nikolay Goldobin
  • Olli Juolevi

 

The Comets Trajectory?

The Comets return tomorrow at 10 AM for the rematch against the Monsters! I hope to be up early tomorrow to recap, but I might opt to stay up until 4 AM tonight to catch up on stats tracking — so no promises folks!

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