COMETS HARVEST: Multi-Point Madness!

The Comets are two days removed from a tough return-to-action this past weekend—a weekend in which they picked up losses to both the Rochester Americans and the Syracuse Crunch.

On Friday, against the Amerks, the Comets dominated play for most of the first two periods. Unfortunately, evaporating energy levels led to some poor defensive coverage, allowing the Amerks to surge past the Comets for a 4-2 regulation victory.

On Saturday, against the Crunch, the Comets honestly had nothing to offer. They were lethargic and slow from the get-go. With rookie netminder Joel Hofer between the pipes, the Comets gave up the game’s opening goal within the first thirty seconds and not once afterwards did they appear “in it.”

The Saturday game might be an omen of things to come, a team coming off a lengthy COVID-outbreak layoff asked to play a ridiculously condensed schedule to satisfy… something?

Utica Comets Schedule

I mean, seriously? What is the impetus for this? Did the league really deem it essential to squeeze a game on the 13th? A Sunday game on the 25th? Maybe the two games squeezed into their existing April schedule doesn’t look that bad. But then you factor in what they did to their May schedule it looks quite ridiculous.

Utica Comets May 2021 Schedule

From April 9th to April 25th, the Comets play nine games in 17 days.

From April 29th until May 14th, they play ten games in 17 days. Why?

Who thought that May Schedule was a good idea?! Five games in seven days?

I was pulling my hair out, trying to understand why the league deemed this necessary.

Right now, there might be in-division “playoffs,” a.k.a more of the Comets playing Syracuse or Rochester.

These aren’t the legitimate Calder Cup Playoffs. The stakes aren’t nearly as high as they’ve been in non-COVID years.

So who is asking for 19 games in the next 36 days?

 

A team like the Utica Comets, who had to shut their operations down for an entire month due to a COVID outbreak should not be playing a schedule this overloaded.

The lingering effects of their COVID layoff played a significant role in the team’s last weekend performances and for all we know, might factor into tonight’s as well.

Utica begins their second double-header in six nights tonight against the same team that dominated them this past Saturday.

Fingers crossed that some of the layoff rust has been shaken off thoroughly. Otherwise, I fear for what the rest of this season will look like.

A ‘rest of the season’ that demands a whole lot without much in return.

 

DO SOMETHING

No “do something” for anyone on this team until it looks like they can play a full 60 without being completely gassed.

 

STARTING ROSTER

  • Joel Hofer starts the second game in a row for the Comets
  • The lineup essentially unchanged, except Mitch Eliot slides back into the lineup for Josh Teves.
  • The Syracuse Crunch called up Alex Barre-Boulet and Mitchell Stephens prior to the NHL trade deadline which means the Comets avoid playing them in tonight’s action. Though Syracuse still has a deep roster full of speedy players, the absences of ABB and Stephens will be quite noticeable.

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

 

GAME 12:

1st period:

  • Live stream not working, good stuff.
  • Sven Bärtschi takes a high-sticking minor penalty TWELVE seconds into the game, and the Comets are off to an early PK
  • Comets kill the penalty, but the Crunch completely pin the Comets into their zone.

PK1 – Jasek, Kaspick, Wesley, Eliot

  • Twenty seconds left in the PK and Mitch Eliot finally clears the zone for the Comets to change.

PK2 – Tucker, Woo, McKenzie, Lockwood

  • Comets kill the PK but don’t push the puck out into the neutral zone until 16:42 of the first period. Syracuse is just smothering Utica early.
  • Oh god, this game is getting ugly… Crunch back into the Comets zone pressuring along the boards, and John Stevens takes a hooking penalty as the Comets desperately try to regain possession. Second PK less than five minutes into the game

PK1 – Nolan Stevens, Eliot, Wesley, Kaspick

  • Syracuse just playing on fast forward while the Comets watch
  • Lukas Jasek is able to hop on for Nolan Stevens, Jett Woo, and Tucker hop on for the d-pairing.
    • Hofer gloves down the puck, allowing Kaspick to change finally
  • Comets kill the Stevens penalty – Rathbone out for his first shift of the game, haha.
  • Syracuse’s Henry Bowlby gets dinged for hooking after the Comets finally manage to enter the Crunch’s zone. Comets with their first powerplay of the game

PP1 – Anas, Bärtschi, Gadjovich, Jasek, Reinke

PP1 – Bärtschi, Jasek, Gadjovich, Anas, Reinke

PP2 – McKenzie, Focht, N. Stevens, McGing, Rathbone

PK1 – Jasek, McKenzie, Eliot, Wesley

2nd period:

PP2 – Rathbone, McGing, Focht, McKenzie, Nolan Stevens

  • PP2 loses the faceoff draw and struggle to break into the Crunch’s zone
  • The refs actively hate 5v5 hockey or some shit
  • Refs call a hooking penalty against Taylor Raddysh. Comets get their fourth extended 5-on-3 powerplay in three games.
  • Crunch clear the puck, and the 5-on-3 generates nothing
  • Gabe Fortier blocks a shot by Sam Anas, and the Comets have to reset from their zone
  • GOAL – UTICA – 1-1 Tie: Despite close to ten minutes of powerplay time in the first thirty minutes of play, the Comets finally get on the boards! Curtis McKenzie (#81) ties the game at one apiece after having a shot-attempt deflected above the Crunch’s net and behind the goal line. Dmitry Semykin attempts to clear McKenzie’s deflected shot, but it floats between his legs. McKenzie hooks the puck past a scrambling Sam Montembeault, who had zero clues as to where the puck was coming from.

PP1 – Jasek, Gadjovich, Bärtschi, Anas, Reinke

  • GOAL – UTICA – 2-1 Comets: LOL, Sam Anas (#7) finds Jonah Gadjovich (#21) in his sweet spot, and the Comets somehow go from getting blown out in the opening of this game to carrying a one-goal lead with less than two minutes to go in the second period. Comets 2/6 on the powerplay tonight and destroying the Crunch in shots on goal; 20 to 1 so far.

3rd period:

  • Early pressure from the Comets in the opening minute
  • GOAL – UTICA – 3-1 Comets: Jonah Gadjovich with his second of the night! Sam Anas (#7) is the real hero on this goal as he singlehandedly draws in the entire Syracuse team towards his center-ice dangles. The puck trickles out to the left-wing for Gadjovich (#21) to sink his team-leading eleventh goal of the season.

 

  • GOAL – UTICA – 4-1 Comets: Well, to quote the great poets Smashmouth, “they don’t stop comin’, and they don’t stop comin’.” Sven Bärtschi unloads an absolutely filthy top-shelf snipe past Montembeault off of an offensive zone faceoff draw. Lukas Jasek and Curtis McKenzie likely pick up assists on the play. Gorgeous snipe.

PP1 – Reinke, Anas, Bärtschi, Gadjovich, Jasek

  • An appropriate eyebrow raises from Tyler Tucker (#2)
  • Crunch pressuring through the final two minutes, but the Comets are doing well to keep their shots to the outside.
  • The Comets overcome a sloppy first period of play and ultimately dominate the Syracuse Crunch over the remaining forty minutes. Impressive comeback effort from a very young club.
  • Comets absolutely destroy the Crunch over the final two periods, outshooting them 38 to 11 over forty minutes.
    • Joel Hofer gets his first professional win

RESULT:

Utica Comets def. Syracuse Crunch 5-1

SCORESHEET:

 

GAME THOUGHTS:

  • I was convinced this game would be another complete write-off after that opening period. The team came out looking completely flat. They didn’t touch the puck once, and they were chasing play endlessly. I put the timestamps in the game recap for a reason because it was truly remarkable how much time the Comets spent trapped in their d-zone.
  • Nonetheless, this was a really encouraging sign that the team may have shaken off the cobwebs of a month-long layoff. The team was buzzing in the second and third periods. No doubt, thanks to some fortunate penalty calling by the referees, but that’s out of their hands.
  • Tanner Kaspick spent most of his night on a line with ECHL PTO Shawn Cameron and blues rookie prospect Hugh McGing, yet managed to make himself useful to the entire team. Kaspick drew two penalties for the Comets and played an integral role as a first unit penalty killer.
    • The PK went 6/6 tonight, completely shutting the Crunch’s offence out.
    • The powerplay ended up going 2/9
  • Curtis McKenzie had himself a game and a half, one goal and one assist on NINE shots on goal! McKenzie has been a very useful “all-situations” player for Trent Cull. He isn’t the fastest, but he’s great at stealing pucks at 5v5 and shorthanded. His PK unit with his brother Nolan is pretty fun to watch. Also very neat that Nolan assisted on Curtis’ goal tonight. Really solid game from him.
  • Sam Anas showed why he’s an elite AHL player and why he’s likely not earning himself NHL minutes. A creative puck distributor with fantastic wheels, Anas picked up two primary assists tonight to give him ten total on the season. However, like many undersized forwards, Anas’ problem is his ability to be knocked off the puck. During the opening period, Anas was constantly being stripped of the puck by the Crunch. Anas eventually got his feet beneath him in tonight’s game, and generally, he remains an elite quad-A AHL player. Still, it’s impossible to deny that his propensity to get knocked off pucks isn’t what keeps him from reaching that next level. I think he could still get a look as a niche powerplay specialist fourth-liner (a la Gagner), but I highly doubt a team like the St. Louis Blues are the team to try that out. Overall, terrible first period and glaring turnover issues aside. He played well.
  • Jonah Gadjovich played okay. He had two goals, yes, but can you honestly look at the tape and tell me he was the driver of the bus on either? The powerplay tally was him standing still at the front of the net, and the second one was the result of Sam Anas drawing an entire defensive group towards him. Gadjovich has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to score. That’s an excellent skill to have, especially at the AHL level, where positioning matters almost as much as speed.
  • Speaking of speed, Gadjovich’s skating, for me, will be what holds him out of legitimate NHL call-up consideration. This season his skating has looked ok, but the difference between Gadjovich’s wheels and even a Zack MacEwen is a large chasm. And Canucks fans know just how much MacEwen has struggled to find his footing this season. Right now, Gadjovich is a net-front goal-scoring specialist. I don’t know if that’s even remotely close enough to warrant NHL ice time.
    • Again, still a great game from him tonight! But there’s a lot of attributes in Gadjovich’s game that need proof of concept.
  • Jack Rathbone was fantastic at both ends of the ice, and his skating remains an impressive separator. His ability to skate backwards faster than some skate forwards is quite something. He wasn’t at his best in the weekend back-to-back, but tonight was a massive return to form from him. I still don’t understand keeping him on PP2 as PP1 legitimately only has one shooting threat in Gadjovich. Bärtschi, Anas, Jasek, and Reinke are puck movers/distributors. They’re not snipers. They need someone like Rathbone, who can launch bombs on goal from the blue line.
    • Too bad the Canucks didn’t call him up before the TDL. I would’ve liked to see what he could do in the Canucks meaningless 19-in-30 stretch.
  • Joel Hofer played a great game tonight. He might have stolen the starter role from Jake Kielly with his play tonight. He legitimately kept the team alive in that brutal first period with timely saves.
  • Will Lockwood hasn’t shown much at 5v5 since the Comets return, though he has been an effective penalty killer for the Comets. His play at 5v5 leaves a lot to be desired. Nonchalant is how I would describe his play at 5v5 over the past three games. And for someone whose upside is. “Tyler Motte, but younger,” I’d like to see way more activity from him at evens to back up his strong shorthanded play.
  • Carson Focht had a solid game. I still want to see some more confidence in his offensive play, but Saturday’s game and tonight were positive signs that he’s figuring things out.
  • Jett Woo was a bit quiet tonight but was solid on the PK.
  • Sven Bärtschi was great. It’s too bad we don’t live in a timeline where the team doesn’t give up on him just to sign the same player with even worse health concerns to the same deal. Oh well, some team is probably going to get him on a bargain contract next season.
  • Also, refs baybee, what is u doin?

COMETS HARVEST THREE STARS

  1. Joel Hofer
  2. Jack Rathbone
  3. Sven Bärtschi

HM: Tanner Kaspick, Curtis McKenzie, Jonah Gadjovich

Next Up on the Docket

The Comets are back at it against Syracuse tomorrow at 7 PM EST/4 PM PST.

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