Photo Credit: Lindsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets
This post covers the Comets games from November 21st to 27th. The games from last week are not included and will be covered in the next article, which should be coming soon.
Travis Green has long been touted as the coach in waiting in the Vancouver Canucks organization. When the NHL club was in the midst of a nine game losing streak, and Willie Desjardins was firmly planted on the hot seat, many wondered if Green’s chance was coming soon – that is, until they looked at the AHL standings and realized that Utica had one of the worst records in the American League.
However, in the last couple of weeks, things have turned around. The Comets strung together a four game win streak that just happened to come when their roster was at its most precarious position all season, with a myriad of injuries and call ups that essentially meant that a full top six forward and top four defence was unavailable to them. And then, must like he did last season, Green took a rag tag group of AHL contracts and PTO’s and extracted some of the best hockey the Comets have played all season.
All this and more in the this season Comets Week in Review.
Wednesday, November 23rd vs. Syracuse: 2 – 1 Win
The Comets played a close game against Syracuse, which mostly involved them not getting shots on net and Thatcher Demko being a brick wall at the other end.
Alex Grenier opened the scoring with a power play goal in the first period, his sixth on the year. Curtis Valk put a shot on net from the half wall, which was deflected by Carter Bancks, making its way out to Grenier just off the far post, where he grabbed it and roofed the puck before Kristers Gudlevskis could get across.
The Comets were badly outshot in the second period to the tune of 11-1, but that one shot was all that Derek Hulak needed to extend the Comets lead to two. The Crunch’s Tanner Richard brought it back to a one-goal game a few minutes later following a Chad Billins turnover and a quick feed to the slot.
From there on out, Demko shut the door and carried the Comets to a win.
Friday, November 25th at Rochester: 5 – 2 Win
The Comets offence finally broke out in this one, putting up a five spot on their long time rivals in Rochester. Wacey Hamilton, Borna Rendelic and Andrey Pedan eached scored their first goals of the season.
Rochester opened the scoring early the first, before Hamilton answered on a deflection midway through the frame. Rochester took the lead back again late in the first period as Nick Baptiste stayed hot, scoring his ninth goal of the season (second agains the Comets).
Rendulic deposited a loose puck in the slot to tie the game at two, before Pedan got the go-ahead goal on a wrist shot from the left side after jumping into the rush. Jordan Subban got an insurance marker partway through the third, scoring his fourth power play goal of the season (and fifth overall). Darren Archibald iced it with an empty net goal in the final minute – Jake Virtanen earned himself an assist on the play.
Saturday, November 26th at Toronto: 4 – 1 Loss
The Comets and Marlies faced off for the third time this season in the final game of the week, and both were treated to a little more grandeaur than usual, as the game was played at the Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs, which brought some NHL worthy effects.
As far as the game goes, it was considerably less pleasant. Toronto scored two in the first and one in the second. Some of the goals didn’t look great on Micael Garteig, who was playing in his first ever AHL game, but the Comets as a whole generally looked overwhelmed by the Marlies, which has been a theme in their meeting this year.
Cody Kunyk got the Comets on the board in the third period, deftly redirecting a Jordan Subban shot (which he had wisely fired intentionally wide). However, they couldn’t get much else going beyond that and eventually fell 4-1.
Alex Grenier was called up to the NHL for the first time in the 2016-17 season prior to the November 25th game against Rochester, after Jack Skille sustained a minor injury. Fellow call up Joe LaBate got into some games, but Grenier remained in the press box and was sent down a few days later.
Alex Biega was sent down to Utica for a conditioning stint, having played in only one NHL game so far this season (and that was as a forward). He played in Saturday’s game against the Marlies. However, he was called back up to the NHL the following day as a result of the injury to Alex Edler.
Ashton Sautner missed all three games last week as he recovered from his concussion. He finally returned to action for the game last Wednesday, after missing 11 games.
Mike Zalewski missed every game, as did John Negrin and Richard Bachman.
† Missed game(s) due to injury/illness; * Missed game(s) due to NHL call up.
- Jordan Subban had cooled off considerably after a hot start to the year, but picked up a couple of points last week, scoring a goal and adding an assist. He also put seven shots on net.
- 24-year old Borna Rendulic had a pretty horrendous start to the season, tallying just a single assist in his first 15 games. This is particular shocking considering that he’s had a generally productive AHL career to date, including 38 points in 68 games just last season. Last week he finally broke through with his first goal of the season, and added an assist in the same game for good measure.
- Alex Grenier played just a single game last week, and he scored a goal in it, before being called up to the NHL following injuries to Derek Dorsett and Jack Skille, but he never managed to get into a game. He’s since returned to the American League.
- Jake Virtanen picked up his second AHL assist last week, which came on an empty goal by Darren Archibald.
- Michael Carcone picked up one assist. The diminutive forward has been a spark plug this season, and even though he hasn’t produced many points, he earned some praise from the Utica broadcast crew in a recent game, impressed by his insatiable quest to grind out plays until they result in some sort of scoring chance.
- Curtis Valk had one assist in three games last week, and his hot streak came to an end. I still think the Canucks should give him a contract though.
- Cole Cassels had no points in three games last week, but he did pick up five shots, which is a good thing. Cassels has looked good so far this year, though we’re still waiting for the offence to really blossom.
Demko has started the majority of the games since since Bachman was injured, and he’s been damn good in each game. He is a huge reason why the Comets are amid their best stretch of the season.
Fellow professional rookie Michael Garteig made his AHL debut in the second half of a back-to-back situation, losing 4-1. Garteig was fed to the wolves, having to backstop a tired team against the Toronto Marlies, and although he let in four goals, he acquitted himself well. He also had a slow first couple of games in the ECHL this season before bringing his numbers up to very respectable levels (2.39 goals against average, and 0.926 save percentage) by the time he was called up to the AHL.
The Comets were badly outshot in their game against Syracuse, including a second period where they were outshot 11-1, though the Comets scored on their only shot that period. They still won the game 2-1. Shots were even in the Friday game against Rochester, while the Comets were again outshot by Toronto in the Saturday game.
The Comets power play converted at a rate of 33 percent this week (going 3-for-9), while they’re penalty kill snuffed out 83 percent of opposing power plays (10-for-12), which is a vast improvment for them.
Player of the Week
The Player of the Week for this edition is Borna Rendulic. The 24-year old forward finally potted his first goal as a Comet, taking until game 17 to do it.
Rendulic’s season has been a bit disappointing thus far. After putting up 38 points in 68 games last season, I figured that he’d be able to provide some solid scoring depth for Utica this year, but he’d been pretty ineffective through his first month and a half.
Perhaps grabbing a couple of points will spark Rendulic into producing a little bit more. He’s recently been moved up to the top line with Curtis Valk and Darren Archibald, so opportunity is knocking.
All three of the games on this schedule have already been played, because I fell behind. The weekly review covering these three games should be forthcoming.
The bright side is that the Comets’ better play over the past few weeks is that they’ve finally pulled themselves out of the AHL basement. These standings are dated November 28th, so they’re a bit behind now, and the Comets have only continued to improve.