Photo Credit: Lindsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets
The Comets played a little better last week, but still didn’t have much to show for it, walking away with one win out of three games. The Comets aren’t getting much scoring from Canucks prospects (other than Jordan Subban), or much scoring in general, there are injuries all over the place, and their special teams are abysmal.
So if you wanted to head to the AHL for refuge from the Canucks’ troubles, I have some bad news for you: the farm is looking a little bleak right now.
But who cares about that, come read about the Comets week that was anyways!
Wednesday, October 26th vs. Binghamton: 2 – 1 Loss
The Comets lost a heart-breaker in the home opener, a low scoring affair that saw them fall behind a goal with less than two minutes to go in the third.
Carter Bancks opened the scoring with his first of the season, redirecting a pass from Alex Grenier into the top corner of the net.
Francis Perron tied it up early in the second period, capitalizing on the power play with a beauty snap shot from the right circle.
The game stayed tied until Curtis Lazar (remember him?) scored a back door goal on the power play in the closing minutes of the third period, and the Comets were unable to respond, losing their first game on home ice this season.
Friday, October 28th vs. Providence: 4 – 2 Loss
Matt Bartkowski played in this game! Yes, THE Matt Bartkowski! He didn’t really do anything notable though.
Derek Hulak scored unassisted six and a half minutes into the first period of this game, beating out a Providence defender to a loose puck in the neutral and put the puck shortside on Providence goaltender Dan Vladar, giving the Comets an early lead.
The Bruins struck twice four minutes apart in the second period to take the lead back. AHL rookie Jake DeBrusk scored on a quick turnover in the defensive zone, giving Demko zero chance to react to the play. Matt Grzelcyk then scored shortly after a faceoff win, shooting the the puck from only a couple of feet off the goal line in the corner. Peter Cehlarik extended the Bruins’ lead early in the third.
Jordan Subban brought the Comets within one goal midway through the final frame, roofing a puck on the short side while walking in from the point, bringing the Comets back within one goal.
There was no comeback to be had though, and Anton Blidh put the dagger through the Comets’ heart with an empty net goal with 12 seconds to go. Matt Bartkowski got an assist. Is this real life?
Saturday, October 29th at Hartford: 4 – 3 Win
The Wolf Pack got things started, with Tanner Glass of all people opened the scoring in this one, shooting the puck into a wide open net after a weird bounce off of a stanchion behind the net left Bachman flailing way out of position.
Cody Kunyk tied the game up with under three minutes to go in the first, banging home his first of teh season (in his first game with the Comets no less). Utica then scored not once but twice in the final 30 seconds of the frame. First Jordan Subban let a seeing-eye shot go from the point which sailed past a screened Mackenzie Skapski. While they were still announcing that goal, David Shields fed Curtis Valk for a breakaway, and the diminutive centre tucked his third goal of the year through the five-hole.
Ryan Graves brought the Wolf Pack within one near the end of the second period, firing a point shot home on (you guessed it) the power play. Michael Paliotta tied the game for Hartford five minutes into the third (a silly looking goal that bounced off of Bachman’s head and down his back into the net), before Derek Hulak’s third of the season restored the Utica lead. Hulak firing one home stick side following a cross ice feed from Borna Rendulic. Though Hulak is only on an American League deal, he’s looking like one of the Comets’ better goal scorers at this point.
Roster moves aplenty have been going down lately, following a rash of injuries at both the NHL and AHL levels.
- Jayson Megna remains up with the Canucks, though he is currently injured and expected to be out 10-14 days.
- Mike Zalewski was called up, made his season debut with the Canucks, and was subsequently sent back down as Alex Burrows and Derek Dorsett prepared to return to action.
- On defence, Troy Stecher was sent down today as Tanev is expected to return tonight, and Tom Nilsson was reassigned alongside him, as he is presumably near full recovery from the injury that sidelined him at the beginning of training camp.
To offset the injuries to the AHL squad (see below), the Comets have signed a few players to PTO’s:
- Phil DeSimone was signed last week and played in both Friday’s and Saturday’s games.
- The club announced Monday that they had signed forward Allan MacPherson and defenceman Justin Baker to PTO’s.
In addition, the Comets signed 26-year old defenceman Colby Robak, a former American League All-Star (2012) to an AHL contract. Robak is a 6-foot-3 left-shot defenceman, a former 46th overall NHL selection by the Florida, who has played 47 NHL games (gathering four assists). He started this season with the Stockton Heat, putting up five assists in six games. He is also the AHL’s current plus-minus leader at plus-8, if that floats your boat.
Robak is likely here to take some pressure off of the left side, particularly on the second pairing where John Negrin has played nearly every game with Jordan Subban – a pairing that has been a defensive wreck for much of the young season.
Finally, and this isn’t necessarily a roster move per se, Joe LaBate completed his three game suspension and was eligible to return to action for Tuesday’s game in St. John’s.
- Cole Cassels continues to sit out with an upper body injury that is considered week-to-week.
- Marco Roy is out with an injury as well.
- Ashton Sautner was stretchered off the ice during Saturday’s game. He was sent back to Utica and diagnosed with a concussion. At this point, he’s expected to miss a couple of weeks.
- Wacey Hamilton also left Saturday’s game following an odd play in which he injury himself while falling awkwardly into the boards while taking a holding penalty. He’s expected to be out long term.
- Andrey Pedan sat out of Saturday’s game with an injury. He returned to the lineup for Tuesday’s game in St. John’s.
† Missed game(s) due to injury/illness; * Missed game(s) due to NHL call up; # missed game(s) due to suspension.
Travis Green continues to rotate his goalies on a game-by-game basis. While Demko held a slight edge heading into last week, he was soundly outplayed by Bachman last, who allowed five goals on 60 shots against.
Demko is still in search of his first professional win – it certainly doesn’t help that the Comets have scored a total of six goals in his three starts to this point.
Jordan Subban had a bounce back week after being a victim to his first healthy scratch of the season in game four. He put up two more goals and added an assists, bumping himself up over a point per game on the season.
Subban continues to be a polarizing prospect: his offensive tools are tantalizing and his numbers are truly impressive; but each night brings Sbisa-esque giveaways in alarming numbers. I certainly don’t fault the organization for wanting him to keep him in Utica until those get cleaned up, as the NHL would eat him alive defensively at this point. I really hope he can make some big strides in that area this season, because the Canucks could absolutely use his dynamic offensively ability now, and in the future.
- Curtis Valk, the prospect-who-isn’t-really-a-prospect scored a goal this weekend (a beauty on a breakaway) and put a whopping 17 shots on net in three games. Token mention of size concern. He seems to be overcoming that so far.
- Alex Grenier slowed down last week, posting a single assist in three games after producing at a point per game to that point. He missed a large chunk of Wednesday’s game against Binghamton, earning 17 minutes in penalties for instigating a fight.
- Ashton Sautner got his first point of the season last week, an assist on one of Subban’s goals. He took a hard hit in the Saturday game against Hartford and has since been diagnosed with a concussion (see injury report).
- No other prospects put up any points so we’ll run through them quickly. Andrey Pedan played two games, missing one with a short term injury. He still has no points on the season. Michael Carcone played three games, putting four shots on net. Mike Zalewski played one game, spending the weekend in Vancouver making his season debut with the Canucks. Evan McEneny played once and figures to get a little more ice time in the absence of Sautner (though the signing of Robak may change that). Yan-Pavel Laplante also played three games, and had no shots or penalty minutes. Joe LaBate missed all three games due to his suspension.
The Comets began to look more like the Comets of old in terms of shot metrics and fast starts. They came out firing in their first two games of the week, outshooting Binghamton 15-6 and Providence 14-6 in the respective first periods of each game. As a reward, they came out of each first period with a lead. Unfortunately, they ultimately lost both games, as holding leads has become as big an issue as scoring goals. They did manage to win the shots-on-net battle in all three games, outshooting their competition 100-84 over the course of the week.
Special teams continues to be a major weakness, especially the penalty kill. The power play managed two goals on ten opportunities. Their 23.3 percent conversion rate (as of Sunday) is actually top ten in the AHL.
The penalty kill is an absolute disaster. They allowed another five goals last week on only 11 opportunities. Coming into this week, their abysmal 65 percent kill rate ranked 29th in the AHL (spoiler alert: they were scored on two more times while shorthanded in yesterday’s game, making them a clean 30th in penalty kill rate). They have allowed at least one power play goal against in each game this season. The long term absence of key penalty killer Wacey Hamilton is certainly not going to help, so some other players are going to have to step up and prove their value.
Michael Chaput continues to lead the Comets on the back of a whole lot of secondary assists. Jordan Subban passed Grenier to move into second place, and there many Canucks prospects putting up points after that.
In the spirit of Halloween, here’s a spoooooky leaderboard:
Player of the Week
I probably would have given the POTW honours to Jordan Subban this week (Subban had a pair of goals and an assist in three games) if I hadn’t chosen him in week 1, but I thought I’d switch it up a little this week. Even though he just had the single goal in three games, I’m going with Curtis Valk.
YES, I know I have an unnatural attachment to this player, who isn’t even technically a Canucks prospect, but Valk consistently looks like one of the Comets’ most dangerous players. Valk had a whopping 17 shots on net in three games last week (the next closest was Darren Archibald’s 10), and sits fourth in the AHL for both total shots-on-goal (25) and shots-on-goal per game (4.17; minimum 0.50 team games played). Last I checked, high shot volumes were good.
Despite not having any assists yet, Valk has demonstrated a propensity for stripping opponents of pucks along the wall (which is pretty great for a guy his size) and setting up teammates.
(I’ve had trouble uploading the video, I’ll try to update this at some point.)
His speed and finishing ability were also on display for his breakaway goal on Saturday.
Full disclosure, Valk is a longshot to ever play in the NHL. His two major roadblocks at this point are his size (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) and the fact that he’s already 23. That knee injuries that forced him to miss an entire calendar year of hockey may prove to be a crushing blow to any potential career he might have been able to fashion. I’m impressed with his abilities, but that has to be taken with the context of expectations: I don’t expect him to be the next Tyler Johnson by any stretch – just an NHL debut would be viewed as a resounding success for me.
As of now, that won’t be possible, as Valk is still on an AHL contract, but Mike Zalewski showed last year that if you impress the Canucks enough, that AHL contract can turn into an NHL call up in a real hurry.
The Comets are headed to the The Rock this week (aka Newfoundland) for a pair of earlier games against Montreal’s affiliate, the St. John’s Ice Caps. This is the second to last trip the Comets will make to St. John’s – they’ll visit once more in January before the Canadiens move their affiliate to the Montreal suburb of Laval next season.
The Ice Caps have started with a flimsy 3-4-0 record, but they’re still better than the Comets, who are currently at the bottom of the Eastern Conference (another spoiler alert, the Comets lost Tuesday’s game in overtime, as this Comets Weekly article didn’t get out before the game was played).
The Comets head back to New York for a Saturday tilt in Syracuse. It will be their eight road game in their first ten games. The Crunch are chief among Comets rivals, and are one of only two teams the Comets have beaten to this point in the season. They’re gonna want to put together some more wins before their position at the bottom of the standings (seen here before the St. John’s games) becomes a permanent one.