3/4/2020 – Utica Comets vs. Rochester Americans

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,

…once

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

LW C RW
Baertschi (#47) Camper (#19) Boucher (#24)
Lind (#13) Hamilton (#36) Bailey (#95)
LeBlanc (#3 Stevens (#16) Perron (#27)
Malone (#17) Graovac (#44) Stevenson (#26)
LD RD
Petgrave (#22) Rafferty (#25)
Sautner (#6) Blujus (#8)
Teves (#4) Eliot (#52)
G
Michael Di Pietro

 

INJURY REPORT
Vinny Arseneau (done for the season) David Pope (concussion) Lukas Jasek (lower-body) Carter Bancks (lower-body) Olli Juolevi (hip soreness) Jonah Gadjovich (illness)

 

Healthy Scratches
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.

1st period

Comets in their Away whites

 

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.

 

2nd Period

 

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.

 

3rd period

 

 

Final Score: 3-1 Utica Comets

 

Scoresheet

Period Team Goalscorer Primary assist helper type
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

 

Takeaways

 

  • 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!

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