COMETS HARVEST: Utica Space Minerals vs. the Rochester Citizens of the USA

Damn, Utica! Back at it again with dem back-to-backs!

I glowed about this young Comets teams’ 5v5 play in my latest prospect update; Just a few days later, the Comets saw departures of several key figures to the St. Louis Blues.

St. Louis Blues Current Taxi Squad as of 02/26/2021

The Blues are facing a brutal run of injury luck as of late. Carl Gunnarsson is out due to knee surgery, Ivan Barbashyev is out for six-weeks, plus the absences of Tyler Bozak, Colton Parayko, Vlad Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, and Jaden Schwartz.

Yeah, yikes.

As such, the Blues called up several key contributors to the Comets; and thus, their first real test as a rookie group begins.

  • Dakota Joshua has proven himself as an effective penalty-killer with fantastic wheels and a great motor. Kind of like a more defensively oriented version of Justin Bailey. Offensive chops haven’t stood out, but his one goal was an absolute beauty created from hard work and skating. The Comets PK will really miss him.
  • Sam Anas is a lethal powerplay phenom. At 5v5, he and his linemates have struggled, as I’ve written about considerably. The powerplay offence is booming with him on the ice, but that three-distributor first-line has struggled in toughs at 5v5 to produce and outshoot their opposition. Comets will struggle to find a fit on that first-line with him gone.

  • Steven Santini is the Comets premiere minute-munching defenceman on a pairing with rookie Tyler Tucker. Without him, the most experienced D-man on the Comets is Mitch Reinke, who’s been an effective 2nd-pairing player but carried only 46 games of AHL experience into this season. Might see Jett Woo on his proper right-side, especially with Jack Rathbone joining the Comets for tonight’s action! It’ll be a very inexperienced bunch but might look better because guys are in their comfortable positions.
  • Lastly, Nathan Walker jumped from middling AHL success with the Comets straight into the Blues active roster. He looked ok in limited viewings, but I haven’t found him to be that impressive. Those two holes in the top-six will be challenging for Trent Cull and company to fill adequately.

 

Cherish It

Just want to slide this in here again to remember the good times we had with this rookie team. You know, just in case the season goes south from here.

Everyone’s favourite East-coast tire-fire, the Buffalo Sabres, called up quite a few players from the Rochester Americans lately, so maybe the Comets Youth Group will fare much better than I think.

The lingering misery of that Mike Smith shutout has pushed me to be even more of a fatalist/cynic regarding how the Comets will perform tonight.

However, because I’ve already dealt with a fair share of bad news lately, I want to fight against that pull to the dark side!

Instead, I want to remain as hopeful as possible during these trying times!

Tonight’s Amerks squad is without Rasmus Asplund, Casey Fitzgerald, and Jacob Bryson. That’s the ‘Merks first-line center and their number one d-pairing.

Comets won’t be alone in their battle against depth issues tonight.

The last time these two met, the Comets narrowly won the 5v5 control battle. Unfortunately, a late penalty from rookie Carson Focht gave the Amerks a late powerplay tying-goal to force a shootout.

Given that Rochester was coming off of a week-long break, and the Comets were on the heels of a back-to-back. The shootout loss was completely forgivable.

Rookies make mistakes, and all things considered, they were playing way above expected given their last back-to-back ended in a blowout 6-1 loss to Syracuse (their opponent for tomorrow).

DO SOMETHING

Tonight’s do something belongs to Will Lockwood.

Despite his very favourable shot-control metrics at 5v5, there’s just been such a lack of offence generation that it’s almost painful watching him play.

He has NHL skating, plays hard, fights for loose pucks, and steals pucks off of opponents. But nothing offensive ever gets generated for all his efforts.

Need to see him do something with all of the little things that he excels at. Especially tonight, where he’ll likely see himself in the Comets top-six for a considerable amount of ice-time.

BEST SCOOP

STARTING ROSTER

  • Looks like Cull is looking to just completely load up the first line and trusting Focht with two decent two-way players in McKenzie/Stevens
  • These guys have been pinned to each other so often that the forward groups have barely any recorded on-ice shot-attempts with each other during the first five games.
  • It should be an interesting night as we watch them try to cobble together some chemistry.
  • JettBone hype

Don’t feel like reading? Click here for spoilers!!

GAME 6:

1st period:

PK1: Teves, Kaspick, Eliot, J. Stevens

  • PK1 with a great job to rim the puck out of the zone and keep the Amerks in the neutral zone

PK2: N. Stevens, Curtis McKenzie, Woo, Tucker

  • Amerks spending a ton of time cycling but not generating any shots. Amerks blow the zone for themselves, and PK2 changes.
  • Great early PK from the Comets
  • Oof, Tanner Kaspick (#26), after two solid PK shifts, waves Will Lockwood (#10) to hop over the boards. Lockwood hops over the boards way too early and plays the puck.
    • Comets immediately back onto the PK for ‘too many men.’

PK1: Jasek, J. Stevens, Tucker, Woo

2nd period:

PK1: Reinke, Kaspick, Woo, J. Stevens

PP1: Reinke, Lind, N. Stevens, Baertschi, McKenzie

  • Veteran heavy powerplay unit, but I think I’d have Rathbone out there no matter what
  • Shorthanded chance against powerplay one gets deflected out of play by Gillies.

PP2: Rathbone, Focht, Jasek, McGing, Gadjovich

PP1: Lind, McKenzie, Reinke, Baertschi, N. Stevens

  • Lind loses the draw, and the Comets have to reset
  • Comets put themselves offside and again have to reset
  • PP1 just struggling to break into the zone. Finally, they do with 9:35 left in the second period.
  • Great speed by Focht (#19) for the powerplay zone-entry
  • Powerplay opportunity ends, and then Rathbone ices the puck.
  • Dangerous giveaway from Jasek. Fortunately, the Amerks veteran line whiff on their one-timer chance.
  • [GOAL – UTICA – 2-1 Comets] Powerplays? Who needs ’em! Lockwood (#10) and the third-line capitalize again for the Comets with a quick bang-bang play behind the Amerks goal-line to set up John Stevens (#16) for his second of the night! A great forechecking presence from this line forces the Amerks into a bunch of egregious turnovers behind their net.

PK1: Jasek, Kaspick, Teves, Eliot

  • Jasek (#9) gloves down a puck and leads a shorthanded drive for him and Tanner Kaspick (#26)
  • McKenzie, N. Stevens hop on and generate another shorthanded chance — Reinke and Woo hop on to replace Teves/Eliot
  • Comets young PK groups close out the period with another clear
  • Comets close the period heavily, leading in shots fourteen to seven
  • A great second half from them despite the late PK

3rd period:

  • Comets start the opening 18 seconds on the penalty kill.
  • Right before a d-zone whistle, the refs blow the whistle to allow the Comets’ lone goalscorer from tonight, John Stevens, to leave the ice under his own power. Tough loss to the Comets to start the period. Not sure what that was about.
  • Wow, Gadjovich gets called for a hold while battling along the boards for the puck in the offensive zone. Horrendously soft call. Both teams seem to be in disbelief.

PK1: Lockwood, Kaspick, Teves, Eliot

PK2: Jasek, McKenzie, Woo, Tucker

  • The lines getting mixed and matched because of John Stevens’ absence; Jasek back playing center for the Comets as he takes a spin with Arseneau and McGing, haha. What a combo
    • The line gets a shift, and they spend it all in the offensive zone dominating with chances, haha.
  • [GOAL – UTICA – 4-2 Comets] Wow. What a turnaround! Nolan Stevens (#17) threads a pass to the blue line to Josh Teves (#4), who settles the puck before wristing a shot past a screened Luukkonen for his first career AHL goal. Good for Teves after a brutal run of luck in his pro-career. Great job by McKenzie (#81) screening Luukkonen on that play. Luukkonen had zero clue where that shot came from.

RESULT:

Comets annihilate Amerks 7-2

SCORESHEET:

 

Game Thoughts:

  • Wow, what a turnaround from this very inexperienced Comets group. The first period started out fantastic for them, just laying on the pressure and shots; then they take back-to-back penalties and spend the next twenty minutes trying to regain a semblance of momentum. The Steven Fogarty goal to tie it up late in the second didn’t phase them at all, and they came out in the third firing on all cylinders. I really think those back-to-back blocks from McKenzie and Woo pumped up the team to start stringing together some meaningful 5v5 offence.
  • Tonight was an absolute 5v5 clinic! Comets scored Six of their seven goals at evens in rapid-fire fashion. Complete domination of an opponent that looked completely out of sorts after failing to generate anything on the powerplay. Outside of the lone goal early in the second, the Comets penalty kill looked fantastic. Impressively so because it was held together by players who’ve struggled to find a place in this lineup; Teves and Kaspick, in particular, had fantastic games tonight for Utica at evens and shorthanded.
  • Speaking of Teves, I thought he looked great tonight. His skating, in particular, makes him such a good option for the penalty kill. I can’t even fault him too much on that hooking penalty that resulted in the lone powerplay goal-against. It was soft. Like, incredibly soft. Kudos to Trent Cull for not punishing Teves by limiting his ice time thereafter. And Kudos to Teves for finally putting a leash on his own adventuring in the offensive zone. By keeping himself outside of the circles, he provided way more utility with his shot attempts. By that, I mean, when he skates past the hash-marks for shot attempts that sail wide, the Comets have to put in extra-effort to backcheck now that they’re four-deep into the offensive zone. If he misses the net on his shot attempts, but he and his d-partner are still along the blue line, there isn’t nearly as much risk. He was safe, and that’s exactly what this d-core needed in the absence of Steven Santini. After all the time he’s spent riding the pine, it was nice to see him earn his first AHL goal. It’s been a tough road for him to make his game work, and tonight he did it. Hopefully, he can remain consistent and continue to play this refined game.
  • I’m going to go out on a limb and say my DO SOMETHING section this season is revolutionizing player-development! Every time I pick a guy, they go out and have an incredible game that night. Last week, although he didn’t end up on the scoreboard, Kole Lind had one of his best two-way games of the season and looked his most comfortable as a center. Tonight, it was Will Lockwood, who arguably had two solid assists on goals were it not for a phantom tip by Jonah Gadjovich for his lone assist of the night. Lockwood was great! Did everything I hoped to see of him in the pre-amble. He used his aggression, skating, and edgework to wheel in the offensive zone and create shot-attempts. And not just shot-attempts but dangerous shot-attempts! I was thoroughly impressed by his work rate at evens and while shorthanded. Like Teves previously, hopefully, he can maintain a semblance of consistency with this kind of play. The Lockwood of tonight would be found money for the Canucks if he can generate shot-assists as frequently as he was tonight.
  • It’s weird, but John Stevens left this game at the perfect time. After scoring two goals to keep the Comets in it when they were at their relative-worst. Steven’s absence forced Cull and company to completely re-jig their line combinations. And each combination worked incredibly well. Practically every line was hemming the Amerks into the offensive-zone through their relentless forechecking pressure and shot-control. A lot of that kudos goes to the players for their work-rate and effort-levels tonight, but kudos to the coaches for making it work through the final 16 minutes.
  • Tyler Tucker struggled away from Steven Santini; he got exposed a bit on several defensive plays. Had multiple plays where he had fantastic takeaways only to ice the puck and put the Comets at a disadvantage. Reinke is an okay d-partner, but he’s a compliment player, not a driver. Kind of like Reinke/Teves in the early parts of this season, they both need someone more effective to make them not stand out with their errors. Unfortunately, Reinke has proven ineffective with Teves, so the Comets are a bit stuck hoping that Tucker/Reinke can put it together on their own. The most that can be said about the Canucks d-prospects tonight is they were absolute difference-makers for the team tonight.
  • Jett Woo had a tonne of shots on net and looked effective all night. He and Rathbone controlling the blue line as effectively as they were was mouth-watering. Loved to see him sticking up for Rathbone after that one hit.
  • Jack Rathbone is smurfing in the AHL. I can’t believe the Canucks are this dogshit and didn’t even consider giving him a game to see what he can do. His skating is easily the best on the team. Three assists in one game are no joke. He looked so god damn good tonight like a seasoned pro. He had one moment where he was caught flat-footed skating backwards, but he made up for it by playing the body. And fortunately, the Amerks offence looked like garbage all night at evens. Kind of a shame he wasn’t sent down earlier. Didn’t know how badly Canucks nation needed JettBone in their life.
  • Jonah Gadjovich had a great game! His three points tonight place him in a tie for first with Sam Anas among Comets scorers with seven points overall. His skating is still a yikes at times, but he can occasionally display great wheels to chase down pucks. I wonder if he slides up permanently alongside Lind and Baertschi as that lines goalscorer. He’s an underrated shot from the circle’s and a solid net-front guy when he gets there; Relentless on rebounds. Could be a decent fit if the coaching staff didn’t like Lind/Baertschi/Jasek as a trio.
  • I thought the Lind, Baertschi, Jasek trio were dynamic and fun as hell to watch. For my money’s worth, That opening ten minutes of the game was unbelievable from them. That first shift saw them pin the Amerks into the d-zone for a full minute and a half. Of course, you want them to capitalize on the o-zone time, but you have to love the demoralizing effect their pressure causes. Worth another look I think, but it’s good to know after a game like tonight that the Comets have options with their forwards.
  • Carson Focht had a quiet night on the scoreboard, but he looked great on that two-way punch line with Nolan Stevens and Curtis McKenzie. Had a few good looks and chances.
    • Nolan Stevens played great, once again, the Blues prospect finishes his night with two assists, five shots on goal and a +2 in the always useful plus/minus stat.
    • Curtis McKenzie finished the night with one assist and zero shots but as stated earlier, his role at the net-front were the reason why both Teves and Baertschi’s goals went in.
  • Thought Mitch Eliot looked really solid in both ends of the ice
  • A couple of times, the Comets looked lost trying to break out of their end, but when they managed to regain possession, they were slick in quickly moving the puck up-ice to generate chances of their own. Amerks are solid at the cycle game and maintaining the zone, but incredibly opportunistic and picky/choosy with their shooting lanes, to a fault.
  • Blues prospect Hugh McGing finished the night as the only player with a negative plus/minus and you kind of have to laugh at that given the final result.
  • Arseneau is always a blast to watch. Total cannonball player with a bomb of a shot; I don’t care what that commentator says, Arseneau has hands that aren’t just for fighting. Finished the night with a wicked goal, four shots, and four PIM’s. Solid night for the journeyman!
  • Powerplay truly needs work. Needs to be overhauled entirely as far as I’m concerned. PP1 just doesn’t have a real shooter option. PP2 is the real prize; it’s young and inexperienced, but Gadjovich, Jasek, Focht, and now Rathbone are a great mix to produce offence. If anything I would just remix the two to get a mixture of both shooters and playmakers.
    • PP1: Lind, Baertschi, Rathbone, Gadjovich, Lockwood
    • PP2: Focht, Jasek, Nolan Stevens, McKenzie, Eliot
  • RE the above: I don’t think Reinke is anything special on the powerplay, so get Rathbone playing there instead. Eliot has a bomb of a shot and if Reinke really is the Comets guy for the powerplay, then make Eliot/Reinke your PP2 duo and take out one of Nolan Stevens or Curtis McKenzie.

COMETS HARVEST THREE STARS

  1. Jack Rathbone
  2. Jonah Gadjovich
  3. Will Lockwood

HM: Jett Woo, Sven Baertschi, and John Stevens

Next Up on the Docket

The Comets back at it tomorrow afternoon against the Syracuse Crunch, who, once again, get the favourable opportunity of playing the Comets on the heels of a back-to-back.

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As I wrote earlier, the Comets got demolished six-to-one the last time the Comets had to close a back-to-back against Syracuse.

However, despite their result, the Comets Youth Group impressed in their last back-to-back outing against a well-rested Rochester squad!

Barring more call-ups by the Blues, let’s remain positive that this group at the very least shows well regardless of the result!

 

Plugs

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Cheers for tuning in, and I’ll catch you tomorrow night for the back-to-back closer redux against Syracuse.

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