Utica Comets Weeks in Review: February 21st – March 5th

Photo Credit: Lindsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets

With last week’s NHL Trade Deadline taking up most of our time and site space, so we’re once again covering two weeks with one article. That works out fine, as the last two weeks have for the most part had a common theme with the Comets: winning.

Another common theme has been the solid play of the netminder. With Richard Bachman up in Vancouver, Thatcher Demko has taken the reigns in Utica, and he’s running away with them. The AHL rookie has started five straight games, and won them all.

There’s more good news in this edition of the Comets Weeks in Review.

The Games

Wednesday, February 22nd at Rochester: 3 – 2 Overtime Loss

Friday, February 24th vs. Wilkes-Barre: 2 – 1 Win

Saturday, February 25th at Binghamton: 3 – 2 Win

Once again, Binghamton has neglected to post their home highlights. For shame.

Friday, March 3rd vs. Binghamton: 5 – 2 Win

Saturday, March 4th vs. Albany: 3 – 0 Win

Sunday, March 5th vs. Bridgeport: 2 – 1 Win

Player of the Week

Thatcher Demko is receiving the Player of the Week honours after his fantastic performance over the past five games. Coincidentally (or maybe not), the only other time I’ve named Demko the Player of the Week was the last time that Bachman was injured and Demko had a run of starts. Apparently the starter’s role suits him nicely.

Demko started five straight games for the Comets, which has coincided with the team’s five-game winning streak. Demko stopped 147 of 153 shots over those five games, posting a .961 save percentage and a 1.20 goals against average. The stretch also included his first professional shut out. Hopefully there are many more to come – Demko had 13 shut outs as a member of Boston College, including a whopping 10 in his final season in college.

The TSN 1040 Midday show asked Demko recently if he was looking to make the jump to the NHL next year, what with Ryan Miller’s future with the franchise uncertain. The level headed San Diego native remarked that he hadn’t even considered that yet – he’s just concerned about the present and developing as much as possible.

Roster Report

Lines:

 

Injury Update:

Derek Hulak and John Negrin have been listed as week-to-week for so long, you have to wonder if they’ll ever come back.

Of more interest to Canucks fans is Jordan Subban, who missed the final two games last weekend with an upper-body injury.

Roster Moves:

The Canucks and Comets have made roughly a hundred roster moves or so since the last update.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration… the actual number is 22, which is a ridiculous amount for two weeks of activity. Of course, there were two major events in this time period: the mumps outbreak, and the NHL Trade Deadline.

The first event led to recalls and eventual reassignments of Alex Grenier, Evan McEneny, Joe LaBate, Jordan Subban and Borna Rendulic. It also necessitated the signing of Alex Wall to a PTO. The deadline involved the papering down of Brendan Gaunce and Nikolay Goldobin, who are now both eligible for the Calder Cup playoffs. The same is true for Richard Bachman, who is back up on emergency recall with the Canucks in place of Jacob Markstrom. This means that Michael Garteig is back with the Comets.

Finally, the Comets picked up forward Emerson Clark at the AHL trade deadline (set one week after the NHL deadline).

Here is the full list of transactions, if you feel like subjecting yourself to it for some reason:

The Stats

Skaters:

  • Joe LaBate missed just one game in this time frame due to his second career NHL call up. In the five games he spent with Utica, he had two goals and two assists, while getting some power play time.
  • Mike Zalewski had a goal and three assists in six games. His injury riddled campaign and a myriad of offensive slumps have likely shut the door on an NHL call up for him this season, with a handful of other forwards likely to get a call before he does. In the last game last weekend, he moved up to the Utica’s top line.
  • Jordan Subban had two goals and an assist in the three games he played. He also missed one game due to being on NHL recall, and two more with an upper body injury.
  • Borna Rendulic also had two goals and an assist, though in six games. He also received a recall prior to the NHL trade deadline, after a hot streak of goal scoring, and made his Canucks debut.
  • Curtis Valk had three assists in six games and put 12 shots on net. He was swapped off the top line in favour of Mike Zalewski for Sunday’s game.
  • Alex Grenier had a goal and an assist in four games, missing two while on NHL recall. Grenier was called up again today, and now looks to be the first forward up when the Canucks are a man short. No surprise there, given that he leads the team in scoring, and that Grenier is running out of time to show that he can translate some of those numbers to the NHL level.
  • Evan McEneny had two assists in four games, also missing two games while on NHL recall, in which he made his NHL debut. McEneny’s 13 shots in four games are again nearly as impressive as his points.
  • Jake Virtanen had one point in six games: a well publicized goal that was unfortunately his first in 16 games, and just his second goal in 32 games. His shot totals are consistently high, his speed has returned, and he’s aggressively physical – but the finish just isn’t there right now.
  • Andrey Pedan has become like a forgotten man in Utica. Now that the Canucks have wasted his waiver time with him sitting in the press box for a grand total of 30 roster-days, he couldn’t be recalled when they actually could have used him in a game. It’s a real shame, because I had high hopes for the 6-foot-6 Lithuanian blueliner. It doesn’t seem that he’s likely to get much of a chance now.
  • Cole Cassels had one assist in six games. The Comets coaching staff might have been hoping for a little boost in his numbers considering that he’s been bumped up to the second line. But one of his wingers is Jake Virtanen, who isn’t scoring either, so that makes things a little trickier. Of course, his other winger is Cody Kunyk, who led the team with five points in the past two weeks, so there’s still more to be desired.

Goalies:

# Player GS Record TOI GA SA Sv% GAA
30 T. Demko 5 5-0-0 299.62 6 153 0.961 1.20
32 R. Bachman 1 0-0-1 60.40 3 26 0.885 2.98

As mentioned several times above, Demko has been on quite a hot streak, accompanied by some pretty sensational numbers.

Richard Bachman played just one game for the Comets in this time span, while also playing one game (a considerably more impressive 43-save performance against the Anaheim Ducks) with the Canucks.

Team Level:

The Comets penalty kill had another strong week, killing off 23 of 25 opposing power play opportunities. Unfortunately their own power play hasn’t been so hot, as they scored just two goals on 23 opportunities (8.7%) over the past six games. That makes a little bit of sense if you consider that they were without a lot of their power play mainstays for a few games, like Grenier, McEneny, and Subban. However, a withering power play has been a pretty common theme over the past several months, so they can’t really blame this one on the mumps.

Looking Ahead

Joyous news! The Comets are locked into a playoff spot as of today, though it’s a tenuous hold. In fact, they actually trail the fifth place St. John’s Ice Caps by a single point, but have a slightly better points percentage because they’ve played one fewer game. The AHL ranks its standings by points percentage because the Californian teams play fewer games than everyone else – but that won’t actually matter for the Comets and Ice Caps, as they’ll end up playing the same amount of games by the end of the year.

In that case, the Comets have to make the most of their games in hand. They’ve been doing their part so far, winning the last five straight games. The Ice Caps haven’t made it very easy on them, but they did do them a favour by losing

The Comets are heading into another three-in-three weekend, opening with tonight’s game at home versus the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who they just beat last week as part of their five-game winning streak.

On Saturday they’ll be in Lehigh Valley taking on the Phantoms, affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers and one of the powerhouses of the AHL – Lehigh Valley leads all American League teams with 211 goals on the season. The Phantoms beat the Comets handily in their previous meeting.

Their final game of the weekend will be back at home against the Binghamton Senators, who are considerably stronger this season than they have been in previous years.