Photo Credit: Lindsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets
The Comets’ offence finally woke up and it brought them their first win of the season, but keeping the puck out of their own net continues to be a struggle – they’ve allowed 17 goals in four games so far, which is the worst goals against per game rate in the AHL. Yikes.
The was a lot of lineup shuffling this week as well, as Travis Green tries to find the right combination of players to score more and get scored on less. If there is a silver lining here, it’s that they only allowed seven goals last weekend after allowing ten the weekend before. Baby steps.
Check out all this an more in this week’s Utica Comets Weekly Report.
Friday, October 21st at Syracuse: 5 – 4 Win
The Comets came out with some jump in this game, clearly eager to forget the opening weekend disaster that was the series against the Marlies. Chad Billins scored a power play goal just 1:58 into the game on a slap shot from the point that bounced off a pile of bodies in front, right over the goaltender, and into the net. Not even two minutes later, Alex Grenier fired home a shot from the top of the circle, directly off of a faceoff win by Michael Chaput.
It didn’t take long for the Crunch to claw back, as Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival scored in the seventh and ninth minutes of the first period. During a two-on-two with Jordan Subban and Ashton Sautner defending, the Crunch players were given a bit too much space and allowed a simple pass across and a quick shot that ended up in the net. The Comets were then victimized while on the power play – Subban, trying to orchestrate a breakout, looked particularly bad on this play, losing the puck in the corner and then failing to check the Dumont in front of the net.
The Comets scored twice more in the first period. Michael Carcone knocked in his first professional goal, redirecting a pass from Jayson Megna while crashing the net on the power play, just 32 seconds after the Crunch tied it. Curtis Valk extended the lead later in the period, sniping a goal from the high slot after taking a feed from Alex Grenier.
Gabriel Dumont scored the lone goal of the second period, bringing the Crunch within one goal. Dumont spun and roofed a back hander from the slot before the Comets defenders could close in on him.
Jayson Megna restored the two-goal lead in the third period with his first goal of the season. Michael Bournval scored on the power play with less than three minutes to go, tipping off of Pedan’s stick in front of Richard Bachman. The Crunch pressed, but the Comets held off them off to take the game 5-4 for their first win of the season.
Saturday, October 22nd at Albany: 3 – 2 Loss
The Comets fell behind again in this game. Reid Scarlett scored a power play goal late in the first, floating a point shot passed a heavily screened Thatcher Demko. John Quenneville added to the lead early in the second period, another power play marker, firing home a shot from the left faceoff dot that beat Demko up high.
Midway through the second, Joe LaBate took the head off of Albany’s Ben Thompson, earning himself a match penalty and a subsequent three game suspension.
Michael Chaput scored his first of the season while shorthanded to bring the Comets within one. A nifty backhand feed from Carter Bancks turned a two-on-two into a breakaway for Chaput, who deked to the forehand and went top shelf on Albany’s Scott Wedgewood. This was the Comets’ first short handed goal of the season – the led the AHL with a whopping 17 shorthanded markers last year.
Derek Hulak scored his first goal as a Comet to tie the game up early in the third period. The Devils gave the puck away to Mike Zalewski after carrying it into their own end. Zalewski made a neat one handed pass through his own legs to Marco Roy, who fed Hulak for the goal.
The Devils retook the lead halfway through the third period. Jan Mondat scored his first NHL goal, coming in on the Comets defence on-on-two, he deked and shot through Troy Stecher’s legs and beat Demko over the shoulder.
Stecher led an onslaught at the end of the game with the goalie pulled, but the Comets couldn’t find the back of the net again, and fell 3-2. They begin the season 1-3 for the second straight year.
No doubt there was some unrest in Vancouver when this tweet was spread around:
Sautner, Subban, Carcone, Cassels (injured), Valk
— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) October 22, 2016
Ryan Biech tried his best to calm the masses, and all second what he mentioned: as a development team, it’s entirely normal for an AHL squad to rotate healthy scratches of young players, especially early in the season, and especially when the team is playing poorly.
Jordan Subban in particular, while he’s put up plenty of points already, has been prone to particularly egregious defensive errors in his first three games. He’ll get plenty more chances though, so it’s not like this is the end of the road. “There’s parts of his game that are really strong, and there’s parts that he has to work on,” Green said of Subban after practice earlier today. “He’s a devoted kid, he loves playing the game, he wants to improve, and I’m excited to see how he responds this week.”
Michael Carcone and Curtis Valk have both been playing top six roles and both scored in Friday’s game – when there are no injuries to speak of, all of the younger players are going to take a turn sitting out. “We’ve got some young guys that are chomping at the bit to get in every night and earn their spot, and stay in the lineup.”
Cody Kunyk was loaned to the Alaska Aces last Thursday, after being a healthy scratch for the first two games of the season.
Troy Stecher and Jayson Megna were called up to the NHL yesterday following injuries to Derek Dorsett, Alex Burrows, and Chris Tanev. Megna has previously played 54 NHL games, while Stecher is set to make his NHL debut tonight against Ottawa.
Derek Hulak was practicing in a non-contact jersey as recently as Wednesday. He missed Friday’s game before making his season debut on Saturday night, scoring his first goal as a Comet.
Cole Cassels left Friday’s game in the first period and did not return. He did not dress for Saturday’s game, and was listed as injured. As of today, he’s been described as week-to-week by coach Travis Green, which doesn’t bode well for what we were hoping would be a renaissance season for the second year pro.
Travis Green said Cole Cassels is “week-to-week” with an upper-body injury.
Saw Cassels in street clothes during practice
— Ben Birnell (@OD_Birnell) October 25, 2016
† Missed game(s) due to injury/illness; * Missed game(s) due to NHL call up.
Demko may not have gotten the win, but his numbers were better than Bachman’s last weekend and he made a large number of acrobat saves, facing off against a much better team than Bachman faced. Is it time to start the goalie controversy in Utica yet?!
Knowing Travis Green, he’s more likely to just continue alternating the two netminders. That’s probably for the best anyways, from an organizational perspective. If a goalie gets injured in Vancouver, it’s better for Demko’s long term development that Bachman takes the call, so both goalies are going to need to stay warm in Utica for now.
Alex Grenier continues to contribute at a point per game pace. Adding another goal and an assist last weekend, he’s got two of each on the year, and is leading the team in primary points. His goal on Friday was a nice one too, one-timing a faceoff win from Michael Chaput.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) October 21, 2016
- Michael Carcone was bumped up to top six duty this week. After spending his professional debut with Wacey Hamilton and Carter Bancks on the Comets’ shutdown line, Carcone started to the left of Jayson Megna and Borna Rendulic on Friday, and had a goal to show for it. On Saturday however, he was a victim of Travis Green’s rotational scratches.
Curtis Valk scored his second goal of the season in Friday’s game against Syracuse, and this one was much prettier than the tap in he scored in the opener – he sniped this one home from the high slot. But, like Carcone, he was scratched on Saturday, as Green looked to take out some younger players.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) October 21, 2016
- Mike Zalewski is still looking for his first goal of the season, but he did pick up an assist last week. Green shuffled the lines heading into the weekend, so Zalewski, who had been playing wing on the second line, moved down to centre the third line. There may be a little less ice time there, but the versatility of being able to play centre and the wing in the American League will only help his stock when the Canucks go hunting to injury replacements later in the year.
- Marco Roy played his first game as a Comet on Saturday, jumping straight into top line duty with Michael Chaput and Alex Grenier. He picked up his first point feeding Derek Hulak, whose shot bounced off a few bodies before landing in the net.
- Everyone’s favourite Richmond born offensive defenceman Troy Stecher was pointless in two games, but looks to have settled in in his second week as a pro. He was particularly noticeable in Saturday’s game while Jordan Subban sat out, running the top line power play and pushing for the tying goal at the end of the game. With time running out and down a goal, Stecher orchestrated a barrage of shots on the Albany net. He was tied for the team lead in shots over the weekend with five, but must have taken at least that many attempts (many of which missed or were blocked) in his final shift alone, though the Comets couldn’t break through.
The next time Troy Stecher hits the ice, it will be for the Vancouver Canucks, as he was called up yesterday and is in to play against the Ottawa Senators tonight.
- After scoring four point in his first two games, Jordan Subban took a step back in week two. He was noticeable in Friday’s game mostly for his defensive gaffes and getting caught up ice, and he spent Saturday on the sidelines. Seeing Stecher getting the call to Vancouver can’t be easy, so here’s hoping that this motivates Subban to keep moving his game forward and not let this get to him mentally. His offensive game has so much promise.
- Joe LaBate played two games last weekend, mostly on the third line. His second game was cut short when he put his shoulder into the head of an Albany player and he was assessed a match penalty. The hit was reviewed by the league afterwards, and he was handed a three game suspension, so LaBate won’t be seeing any game action this week.
- Cole Cassels didn’t get far into last weekend before leaving and not returning with an injury. His ego might have been injured as well, as the line shuffling bumped with out of the middle and on to the wing – on the fourth line with Hamilton and Bancks. Cassels is now listed as week-to-week, which is unfortunate timing as the Megna call up should have allowed him to move back to centre and up the lineup.
- Andrey Pedan has been solid for the most part in Utica, getting plenty of ice time on the top pairing and the top penalty kill rotation. He doesn’t have any points to show for four games yet.
- Ashton Sautner has played one game in each of the first two weeks. On Friday he was paired up with Jordan Subban, and the two had a rough night all around. Sautner was relied upon quite a bit defensively last year in his rookie year, so he’ll want that to be the focus of his game going forward.
- Evan McEneny played his first game on the season on Saturday. His biggest impression on the scoresheet was a pair of minor penalties, but he did make a nice diving play to knock the puck of the stick of an opposing forward, which could have otherwise led to an odd man rush.
- Yan-Pavel Laplante played one game last weekend, again with Wacey Hamilton and Carter Bancks. He fit himself in on that line by banging and crashing in the offensive zone. That suits Laplante, as his ability to carry the puck has been iffy.
If there’s one area where the Comets have looked good so far, it’s been the power play. With a conversion rate of 25 percent so far, five of the Comets’ 11 goals so far have come on the mad advantage. That conversion rate is currently ninth best in the AHL, despite going 0-for-5 on Saturday. Notably, that was the game that Jordan Subban sat out – Subban has had a hand in three power play goals so far. That said, both power play goals on Friday came from the second unit, so it’s not just Subban that’s driving its success.
As for the penalty kill, it’s been pretty brutal to this point. Their 66.7 percent kill rate is tied for the second worst in the AHL, though they were a little better in week two – they killed eight of 11 (72.7 percent) this past week.
The Comets have been routinely outshot over the course of the young 2016-17 season, something that wasn’t a particularly common occurrence the last couple of season. They faced a total of 50 shots against, while putting 39 on net themselves. Worse, they were outshot in five of the six individual periods on the weekend, despite spending a good chunk of Saturday’s game trailing.
If Micah Blake McCurdy was making this graph, then Alex Grenier would be leading the Comets in scoring with his four primary points and Jordan Subban would be in second. Alas, free agency acquisition Michael Chaput has surpassed their point totals.
Player of the Week
It’s usually preferable when the player of the week is a Canucks prospect, but Michael Chaput earned the earned last weekend. Chaput has been among the Comets’ best players so far, taking over the role as number one centre, half-wall distributor on the first power play unit, and a routine penalty killer – his only goal so far this season was of the shorthanded variety.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) October 22, 2016
Chaput is still just 24 years of age, which is young for a player picked up in free agency with the intention of bolstering American League scoring. He’s on just a one-year deal with the Canucks, but given their penchant for injuries in Vancouver, it’s probably pretty likely that Chaput sees some NHL time at some point in the 2016-17 campaign.
The Comets have their home opener Wednesday against the Binghamton Senators. They’ve struggled in their four road games so far, going 1-3-0, but they’ve been historically much stronger in the AUD than away from it. We’ll see if that holds true this week as they play two games at home before making the short trip to Hartford on Saturday.
Binghamton and Providence have also gotten off to slow starts this year, and look to be easier tests than the teams that Utica has faced to this point.