Photo credit: Luke Emrich / Utica Comets
Just when the Comets looked like they could do no wrong, they find themselves mired in a slump. After collecting points in seven straight games, Utica dropped their last two in regulation. The injuries to the Comets backend are finally catching up with them, as they carry on without three of their top blue liners. Plus, the goals are drying up at the same time.
There wasn’t much to celebrate in the week that was for the Comets, but let’s pick through it anyways, and maybe talk about some stuff that happened a few weeks ago to make ourselves feel better.
December 30th, 2015 vs Albany: 3 – 2 OT Loss
In the eighth meeting between the clubs the Utica Comets were finally able to record their first point against the franchise that used to call Utica home in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Albany Devils on Wednesday night at the Times Union Center. The Comets entered tonight’s contest having lost all seven of their previous match-ups in regulation.
Blair Jones (1-0-1), and Hunter Shinkaruk (1-0-1) handled the scoring for the Comets, while Richard Bachman turned aside 23 of the Devils 26 shots on goal.
With the overtime loss the Comets record fell to 16-15-3-2. The Comets power play snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a power-play goal in the first period, and ended the game 1 for 4. The Devils top-ranked power-play unit was blanked on four attempts by the Comets penalty-killing unit.
From the Utica Comets Post-game Report.
December 31st, 2015 vs Albany: 4 – 1 Loss
Despite scoring the game’s first goal the Utica Comets failed to snap their losing streak against the Albany Devils on Thursday night at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. After Jon Landry’s first period tally, the Devils scored four unanswered goal for their ninth straight victory against the Comets.
With the home loss the Comets record fell to 16-11-3-2. The Comets penalty kill pitched another perfect night and killed all four penalties. The Comets stymied the Devils top-ranked power-play unit in both games of the series and completed the two-game set 8-for-8 in kills.
From the Utica Comets Post-game Report.
January 2nd, 2016 vs St. John’s: 3 – 1 Loss
The Utica Comets didn’t start the new year off like they had hoped. The Comets suffered their third consecutive loss when they fell to the St. John’s IceCaps 3-1 at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Saturday night.
Joseph LaBate (1-0-1) was the only Comets player to successfully find the back of the net. Defenseman Jordan Subban (0-1-1) picked up a helper on the goal, running his point streak to five games.
With the loss the Comets record falls to 16-12-3-2. The Comets penalty unit came in strong once again, successfully killing all four of the penalties called on them, and running their penalty-killing streak to 12 straight.
The Comets will look to snap their three game losing streak when they hit the road next week for a three-in-three. The road trip starts off in Binghamton on Friday where the boys in blue will face the Senators. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.
From the Utica Comets Post-game Report.
The Canucks organization seems to be struggling with injuries at every level, although things may be looking up in the near future. In the NHL, Luca Sbisa, Brandon Sutter and Ryan Miller are close to rejoining team practices, while Brandon Prust and Sven Baertschi have been taking the ice and are listed as day-to-day. The return of some of these players may facilitate the return of several core members of the Comets.
Today the Canucks announced that Ronalds Kenins and Alex Grenier had been reassigned (the latter before getting into a game). Comets still with the big club include Linden Vey, Andrey Pedan, and Joe Cannata. Whether or not the Comets ever get Alex Biega back is now up for debate, given how strong he’s played in the AHL.
In the AHL, Joe LaBate returned from a brief injury, dressing for the Saturday game. Ashton Sautner returned in the same game, after a brief tour of the Canucks’ press box. Taylor Fedun, sidelined for a month with a hand injury, could return as soon as this weekend. Unfortunately, Blair Jones sustained an upper body injury that forced him to miss Saturday’s game.
After a couple of losses, Travis Green shook up the lines a bit, moving Mike Zalewski to the top line centre spot and putting Brendan Gaunce in Jones’ spot with energy players Carter Bancks and Wacey Hamilton. It was a reunion of sorts; Gaunce, Hamilton and Bancks spent the majority of last season together, including the Calder Cup playoffs, and they were one of the team’s most consistent lines in terms of effort level and energy.
There weren’t many goals last week, as the Comets potted just four in the three games they participated in. Actual prospect points were even harder to come by, although Shinkaruk, Gaunce and Grenier did combine for a nice goal.
Jordan Subban had another decent week, looking like a man with something to prove, being the last remaining Comets defenceman on an NHL contract. He had assists on three of the four Comets goals last week, one in each game, extending his point streak to five games. He also has nine points in his last nine games, bumping him up to 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) on the season, good for the highest among defencemen and fourth on the team in total.
Unfortunately Subban still managed to compile a minus-4 rating last week – tied for worst on the team – despite getting the most points on the team in the same span. This highlights Subban’s struggle this season: the offence comes fast and furious, but so do the goals against when he’s on the ice. Watch through the above highlight packs and you’ll see him get beat or standing around a few too many times while opponents are scoring goals.
Hunter Shinkaruk continues to pace the Comets in both goals and points, while Alex Grenier has taken over the team lead in assists, with 13, while Shinkaruk and Subban share second place with 12 helpers (along with Linden Vey, who’s up in Vancouver). Having Canucks prospects occupying the top four spots in Utica’s scoring race is a very welcome site indeed.
Player of the Week
The pickins were pretty slim this week when it comes to prospects making an impression, so this week I’m giving the award to Zalewski.
Who is this Zalewski character, you might ask? You might remember him from the two games he played for the Canucks at the tail end of the Tortorella season after signing a deal with the Canucks out of college. He got an assist on Frank Corrado’s first NHL goal. In his first season with the Comets in 2014-15, Zalewski scored just three goals and nine assists in 55 games. Zalewski’s deal ran out in the summer, and he was unsurprisingly penned to an AHL contract, rather than one of the NHL variety.
This season however, he’s been one of the Comets best players. In just 30 games this year, he’s already surpassed his goals and points totals from his rookie campaign, and has been a force in driving play. He’s played on every line this season with a myriad of different linemates, but he holds the highest on-ice even strength goals-for ratio among forwards, at 61.5 per cent. His all situations GF% is still a respectable 54.1 per cent, which is impressive considering he spends a lot more time killing penalties than on the power play.
On top of that, his estimated points per 60 minutes of 2.30 is second only to Hunter Shinkaruk among players that have played at least 10 games. That’s all situations mind you, but remember what I said about him spending more of special teams time down a man than up a man.
Not being on an NHL deal anymore, it would be hard to consider Zalewski a “prospect” (although I would be quick to afford that luxury to Curtis Valk, who’s playing again by the way!!! I’m a Valk fan). However, he’s still just 23 years old and is currently producing at a rate of 0.5 points per game, and whatever fancy stats that we can actually glean from the AHL’s bare bones game sheets are smiling upon the 6-foot-2 centreman.
So is he a prospect? I guess it depends how strict your definition is. Consider though that he’s in a similar age range as Nicklas Jensen and Alex Grenier, and is also in the same realm as those two in terms of production. I’m not saying that we’ve got a real diamond in the rough here, but it wouldn’t shock me if Zalewski plays himself back onto a two-way deal and gets a shot at a bottom six NHL role at some point.
I mean, just look at this goal.
Things aren’t looking much easier for the Comets this week. They’ll play a three-in-three this weekend, all on the road, all in different cities.
First, the Comets play the Binghamton Senators on Friday, a team in the basement of the Eastern Conference with a record of 11-17-3-0. Utica defeated Binghamton 7-5 in their last meeting, in a game chalk full of fisticuffs. These two teams do not like one another – it seems that every time they face off, a brawl isn’t far behind. Hell, even Jacob Markstrom got into a fight with a Binghamton goalie last season. The fireworks start at 4:05 pm Pacific.
The next night the Comets will travel to Wilkes-Barre Scranton to take on the Penguins. A complete 180 from Friday’s opponent, the Penguins pace the AHL’s Atlantic division with a record of 23-8-0-1. Regrettably, it looks as though Utica won’t get to catch a glimpse of former NHL power play stud Tom Sestito, who hasn’t played since November 28th and is apparently out with an injury. Another 4:05 start for this one.
Finally, the probably exhausted Comets travel to Hershey, Pennsylvania for the last game of their three-in-three weekend. The Hershey Bears (affiliates of the Washington Capitals) are right on the heels of the Penguins, with a record of 18-11-1-5. This is the Comets first ever trip to Hershey, after moving to the Eastern Conference in the off season. This Sunday night matchup goes at 2:00pm Pacific.