COMETS HARVEST: Utica Comets Exorcise Some Demons

Fresh off of back-to-back losses against Providence and Syracuse, the Utica Comets return to action for a home game against the Binghamton Devils.

For those unaware, there is much discussion in upstate New York surrounding the crumbling relationship between the New Jersey Devils and their current affiliate Binghamton.

Special shoutout to former CanucksArmy Comets contributor Cory Hergott for mining this little nugget of gold.

It would appear as though Robert Esche, the Comets president, is posturing in case the Canucks opt out of the remainder of their six-year deal.

As reported by the Province’s Patrick Johnston, the current deal between Utica and Vancouver was signed after the 2018-19 season and included an opt-out clause that allowed the Canucks to explore moving their farm team to a different location after the 2020-21 season.

Something to watch out for in the coming weeks as the AHL does have a board of governors meeting soon.

Vancouver would have to table a move of their farm team to another location and be accepted by the board of governors before the New Jersey Devils farm team could transfer from Binghamton to Utica.

Utica has a bit of a rocky history with the New Jersey Devils ownership and their previous AHL farm team, the Utica Devils (original, I know).

The Adirondack Bank Center has always been a rowdy barn whenever I recap games. This season’s games are certainly missing the charm of the boisterous Utica faithful. So hopefully, if New Jersey does takeover, they show the Utica faithful a bit more respect than they did the last time they were in town.

Whether it’s Vancouver or New Jersey, one team is getting one helluva fanbase out of this.

If it’s New Jersey? Promise the city of Utica that you won’t fuck them over like you did the last time!

And if it’s Vancouver? Please promise you’ll find a way to keep the Utica Comets logo and branding for wherever they move to next.

DO SOMETHING

The Comets have unsurprisingly hit a wall in their return from their COVID layoff.

Pre-COVID layoff, the Comets were 6-2-0-1 with a +93 shot-attempt differential at 5v5!

Post-COVID layoff, the Comets are 2-4-0-0 with a +23 shot-attempt differential at 5v5.

They’re trying to fight through a tough stretch, but the schedule, fatigue, and a depleted defence-core are playing against them.

With Jack Rathbone recalled by Vancouver, the Comets have only one defenceman with a positive 5v5 goal-differential; Jett Woo.

Jett Woo has been a very reliable defenceman for the Comets at 5v5, but his current partner, Josh Wesley, is not an AHL defender; a massive downgrade on what Rathbone brought to the table.

For that reason, tonight, the person that needs to do something is…

Mitch Eliot!

Eliot has put up solid underlying metrics on a pair with Josh Teves. He has a massive one-timer shot from the point, but he’s struggled mightily to hit the net.

Among all Comets skaters, Eliot has the fifth-worst on-net percentage. Just 18 of his 44 shot attempts across all situations have hit the net.

Without Jack Rathbone in the lineup, the Comets have zero players with a heavy shot on the blueline after Eliot.

Tyler Tucker is not an answer, nor is Reinke, Teves, or Wesley; Maybe Jett Woo can be that guy, but he hasn’t shown he can unleash clappers the way Eliot can.

I would like to see Eliot get a spot as a shooter on the powerplay to try and get him on the board. He needs a confidence boost so the Comets can get something from their blueliners down the stretch here.

STARTING ROSTER

  • I’m digging the look of this first line if they can get going. Maybe Gadjovich sparks Lockwood’s offensive instincts a bit.
  • D pairings are a massive yikes for me. When Teves/Eliot is your best pair at controlling shot attempts, you’re in trouble.
  • Bärtschi and Arseneau confirmed as being unfit to play, so I’ve moved them into the IR section.
  • Kudos to the Utica Observer-Dispatches Ben Birnell for notifying me that Shawn Cameron is on a contract with the Blues, not on an AHL PTO.

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

GAME 16:

1st period:

PK1 – Kaspick, Lockwood, Tucker, Wesley

  • Kaspick wins the draw and chases down a rink-wide dump-in, scaring goaltender Mareks Mitens into leaving his net and playing the puck up into the neutral zone.
    • Good pressure from Kaspick

PK1 – Stevens Brothers, Teves, Eliot

  • Devils are struggling to set up in the Comets zone. Comets kill off the first minute of the double-minor without facing much action.
  • PK clears the zone then Hofer makes a big stop with his body

PK3 – Jasek, McKenzie, Woo, Reinke

2nd period:

PP2 – Focht, McGing, McKenzie, Woo, John Stevens

  • Comets lose the faceoff and then ice the puck. PP2 not off to a great start.
  • Comets break in off of a Woo bank-pass off the endboards. Good control displayed by him along the blueline
  • PP2 forced out to reset, and PP1 comes out

PP1 – Jasek, Anas, Reinke, Gadjovich, Nolan Stevens

 

  • With one second left in the period, Gadjovich runs into Mitens. Again, no fight ensues. However, the game has been quite chippy thus far.
  • Comets finish the period, having been outshot eleven to nine.

3rd period:

PP1 – Reinke, Anas, Jasek, Gadjovich, Nolan Stevens

  • GOAL – UTICA – 2-0 COMETSMitch Reinke (#28) makes it two-nil for Utica with a wicked wrister from the point. Lukas Jasek (#9) hands off from the slot and runs a sneaky bit of interference while Reinke walks the line for his shot. Reinke picks up his second of the year.

 

  • Tyler Tucker gets issued a holding minor less than forty seconds after the Reinke goal, and the Comets are off to their fourth PK of the game.
  • Comets penalty killers are stifling the Devils offence generation very well on this powerplay opportunity.
    • Devils with one shot-attempt that sails wide of the net.
  • Tough break for Utica as John Stevens gets called for hooking at the end of a long shift while trying to clear the zone.
    • Comets facing a brief 5-on-3 opportunity
  • Joel Hofer with two massive saves after the 5-on-3 faceoff draw.
  • Tucker leaves the box just as Binghamton fumbles the puck along the goal line and have to reset
  • GOAL – UTICA – 3-0 COMETS: What a way to score your first professional goal! Will Lockwood (#10) take a bow! While pressuring the Devils in the neutral zone, Lockwood forces a giveaway to Mitch Reinke (#28), who sends Lockwood in behind the Devils defence for the breakaway. Lockwood dekes forehand backhand on Mitens for a beauty to make it three-zip.

 

  • With time still remaining on the John Stevens penalty, Curtis McKenzie gets called for goaltender interference, and he absolutely LOSES IT on the refs, haha.
    • Broadcast calls out Mitens for the flop.
    • Comets to a 5-on-3 kill
  • Tanner Kaspick with two massive diving clearing efforts to kill the 5-on-3 as John Stevens steps out of the box.
  • Another fantastic PK for the Comets
    • They hold the Binghamton Devils to three shots total across four minutes of PK time.
  • Another solid shift from Will Lockwood. Binghamton rifles the puck from center-ice on Hofer in frustration at how this one turned out.
  • Binghamton pulls Mitens for the extra attacked with three minutes to go in the third.
  • Gadjovich is defending the 6-on-5 and has an empty-net opportunity but takes the unselfish play for the pass. Unfortunately, the pass is nowhere where it needed to be.
  • Comets frustrating the Devils by keeping them inside the neutral zone
  • With three seconds left in the period, Jett Woo takes a high-sticking penalty.
  • Tanner Kaspick wins the final faceoff on the 6-on-4, and Joel Hofer records his first professional shutout. Brilliant performance from him after some early fumbling.
  • Comets finish the game getting outshot 41-to-18 but up on the scorecard 3-zip.

RESULT:

UTICA COMETS DEFEATS BINGHAMTON 3-0

SCORESHEET:

GAME THOUGHTS:

  • An incredible effort from Joel Hofer tonight to pick up his first pro-shutout. He certainly didn’t make it look easy as there were quite a few misplay blunders behind the net that gave Binghamton dangerous scoring opportunities. Twas no easy task, stopping 40 of 40; quite the game to pick as your first shutout!
  • Will Lockwood with a fantastic game for Utica tonight. Dominant on the forecheck, even if he had a few offensive blunders. He came up big for the team on the penalty kill and was rewarded with his first pro-goal for his efforts.
  • Speaking of “rewarded for your efforts,” another Comets penalty killer who had himself a game was Tanner Kaspick. Tremendous effort on the PK to stifle the Devils’ offence. Kaspick threw his body on every loose puck to clear the zone on the penalty kill. Eventually, he got rewarded with that layup opportunity from Ethan Keppen for his first of the season.
  • Ethan Keppen looked okay tonight! His skating stride is a bit ugly, but he manages to get around the ice rather quickly for a guy his size. Great play on the Kaspick goal for his first pro point. He could be a force for Utica’s bottom-six if he can use his speed to create rush chances for his line.
  • Mitch Eliot and Josh Teves were solid tonight. I loved that one backchecking effort of theirs after the miscue with Lockwood in the offensive zone. You know these two were on the outs with the coaching staff last season for their adventuring and their half-hearted defensive play. While there are still many kinks to figure out, their efforts have been way more noticeable this season. As a penalty-killing duo, they’ve been very effective, having stepped up considerably in the wake of Juolevi/Chatfield graduating to the NHL.
  • A tough game for the Lukas Jasek line. Generally didn’t notice them at all in either zone. Jasek’s shot still remains problematic. Tonight wasn’t the first time he’s had golden one-timer chances from the slot that sailed wide of the goal.
  • Gadjovich looked pretty good tonight. Maybe the first time I’ve noticed his off-puck activity. With elite puck distributors, Gadjovich opts into an opportunistic sniper role. Guys like Sam Anas do a lot of the puck retrieval grunt-work while Gadj sets up shop at the front of the net for rebounds. Tonight, he made a concerted effort to be more involved in the grunt-work to be a set-up man for Lockwood/Stevens, moving away from being simply a stationary trigger-man. Overall, it was a great role-pivot from him tonight. Though he didn’t end up on the scoresheet, his net-front presence was definitely a big factor in the Reinke goal.
  • Tyler Tucker mystifies me. He’s a massive guy, who doesn’t really throw his body around that much, throws an outrageous amount of volume towards the net, though he never seems outwardly dominant with his shot. He kills penalties, skates fast, and has all the attributes that a coach loves. But he’s so frustrating to watch when he coasts in the defensive zone or throws blind backhand passes to no one. He should arguably have much more to show with his physical toolkit but just seems to be a guy who can eat lots of minutes without doing much in either end. He and Jett Woo had very little chemistry. Though the little chemistry they did show was better than anything the Woo/Wesley pairing showed.
  • Mitch Reinke had himself a great game. Solid on the PK, scores a powerplay goal, minute-eater, pretty much everything you want from a top-pairing AHL defender.
  • Comets powerplay without Bärtschi, Lind, and now Rathbone lacks serious firepower. It is hard to really fault the Comets on this as they really don’t have many elite options to build a better first-powerplay unit. I still think Eliot should get a look as a forward one-timer specialist, but creativity might be outside the scope of what’s expected from the coaching staff this season. Exhaustion is going to settle in really quick, if it hasn’t already, with some of these players playing big 5v5 minutes, powerplay minutes, and shorthanded time.
    • Powerplay and PK: Stevens Bro’s, Jasek, Woo, Reinke, McKenzie
    • Powerplay only: Anas, Gadjovich, Focht, Bärtschi, Jackson
    • PK only: Lockwood, Kaspick, Wesley, Eliot, Teves, Tucker
    • None: Arseneau, Cameron, Keppen, McGing
      • Arseneau is what he is, but he has a good shot. I’d give him a look on PP2 with Eliot.
      • Keppen is a big body who arguably could get a look as a net-front guy
      • Cameron has fantastic wheels and should arguably be on the PK, same with McGing
  • The above point is just to say that there are shooters not being used for the powerplay and grinders with speed who aren’t being used on the PK. With thirteen games remaining in the schedule, no Calder playoffs, and no player returns in sight, it makes sense for the coaches to “get weird with it.” For Trent Cull, you might as well see what gold you can mine out of this group. Especially with reports of an ownership group that is content with spending very low on their next coach. A coach that might not even need NHL experience to qualify for the position.

 

COMETS HARVEST THREE STARS

  1. Joel Hofer
  2. Tanner Kaspick
  3. Will Lockwood

HM: Mitch Reinke, Ethan Keppen

Next Up on the Docket

The Comets are back in action this Friday when they visit the Rochester Americans; 7 PM EST/4 PM PST.

In theory, I should be good to recap that one! But last week, I overworked myself to exhaustion trying to squeeze the tracking of five games around three evenings, so I might bail and opt to recap the Sunday game against Syracuse instead.

Plugs

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Cheers for tuning in, and I’ll catch you all this Friday or Sunday, OR BOTH!? Probably neither, I’m very tired.

Or am I?!

Yes.

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