Utica Comets Post-Game Report
Round One | Game One
At Toronto Marlies
Saturday, April 21st, 2018
1:00 pm Pacific
The Utica Comets rolled into Toronto today for game one of their first-round playoff matchup vs the Marlies, (Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate). The Marlies finished the season sitting first overall as the top dogs in the AHL. The Comets finished 15th in the league, which is pretty impressive considering the plethora of players that the team has had to employ this season to get them into the playoff picture. Hats off to Pat Conacher and Ryan Johnson for finding ECHL players who have been able to help the club, as well as Trent Cull and his staff for extracting so much out of those players made available to them. Great work has been done in Utica this season.
The Marlies finished the season with 112 points, while the Comets showed 88 points for their season’s efforts. Those 88 points tied the second-highest total by a Comets team since joining the league five seasons ago.
The two clubs played each other eight times this year, with the Marlies holding a five-games-to-three advantage in the season series. Combine that with the fact that the Marlies finished the season as the top team in the AHL, while the Comets finished 15th, and one would think that the Marlies should be able to walk away with this one handily. Well, things may be closer than they seem between the two teams.
As far as special teams go, the Marlies’ penalty kill was ranked first overall in the AHL, while the Comets’ penalty kill was sitting second. The clubs tied with their power plays both operating at 18.0% for the season.
The Marlies scored 24 goals over their eight games against the Comets this year. The Comets, for their part, picked up 22 goals over those same eight contests. That doesn’t seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb for the Comets.
Thatcher Demko played in five of those eight games against the Marlies, losing his first two and winning his final three, posting 107 saves over the trio of wins. Thatcher has had a strong series vs Toronto this season. In total, Demko and Bachman have posted 259 saves during the series, while Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard have put up 207.
Ben Smith led the season series with eight points, while Marlies defender Andrew Nielsen was close behind with seven. Dmytro Timashov and Justin Holl each tallied six points over the series, while Andreas Johnsson and Miro Aaltonen had five points apiece for the Marlies.
For the Comets, it was captain Carter Bancks and defender Patrick Wiercioch leading the way with five points apiece. Michael Chaput, Reid Boucher, and Alex D’Aoust each had tallied four points in the series, while several Comets had put up three points, including rookie Zack MacEwen and newcomer Lukas Jasek. Jasek’s three points came in just two games.
Two of the Comets season series wins came at home in Utica, while the other was on the road in Toronto.
In other Comets news, the Vancouver Canucks announced yesterday that they had signed winger Lukas Jasek to a three-year entry-level deal. This is great news as it appears that Jasek will be starting in North America next season. CanucksArmy’s own Ryan Biech breaks down the signing below.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) April 20, 2018
The Comets also released a pair of players from their PTO deals after their last regular season game. Defenseman Nolan Valleau and forward Caleb Herbert have both been thanked for their service and let go.
Comets release forward Caleb Herbert and defenseman Nolan Valleau from their PTO's. pic.twitter.com/0whfKMNKbD
— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) April 16, 2018
Trent Cull has more bullets in the chamber than he has had at any point in the season and as such he had some difficult decisions to make today with his roster.
There will be plenty of fans bemoaning the fact that Jonathan Dahlen and Kole Lind did not get to play in the game today, while veterans like Wacey Hamilton, Carter Bancks, and tryout player Vincent Arseneau were playing ahead of them. I understand why the coach is playing Bancks and Hamilton as both men have been wearing letters with the club all season, they are leaders on this team. They lead by example and both players probably played well enough today to stay in for tomorrow’s game.
As far as Arseneau goes, I’m a little less sold. I understand the coach wanting to have some sort of muscle available to him if need be, however, the Marlies didn’t exactly dress a team of ne’er-do-wells today. The Comets have had several players demonstrate this season that they are willing to throw down when the need arises. Cole Cassels, Michael Chaput, Zack MacEwen, Jaime Sifers, Wacey Hamilton, and Carter Bancks have all dropped the mitts at times this season. You can add to that the fact that as game as Arseneau is, I’m not sure that I saw him come out on the right side of any of his pugilistic activities this season.
I can understand, to a point about not wanting to use Dahlen in a bottom six, checking role, but he put up two points in his second game with the team while starting on a line with Carter Bancks and Andrew Cherniwchan. All of this said, there is a reason why the Comets made the playoffs this season while icing a roster littered with unknown ECHL players. Cull has been pushing the right buttons this season, so I think he has earned the benefit of the doubt.
Scratched today for the Comets were: Evan McEneny, (injured), Yan-Pavel Laplante, (injured), Brendan Woods, (injured), Joe LaBate, (injured), Frankie Simonelli, (injured), Aaron Irving, Tony Cameranesi, Alex D’Aoust, Griffen Molino, Adam Comrie, Michael Garteig, Kole Lind, Jonathan Dahlen, Willie Corrin, Andrew Cherniwchan, and Jayson Megna, (vet rule).
I just want to send out a thank you to a friend of mine who happened to be at the game today. My “boots on the ground”, Jeannette Gory is someone who used to live where I do now but now lives in Ontario. I had the pleasure of playing hockey with not only her but her brother, her father and her grandfather. This is a straight up good ole’ fashioned Canadian hockey family, folks. So when I heard that Jeannette was going to be attending the game, I asked her if she could send me the line rushes so that I could get a head start on my article. Well, not only did she get me the line rushes, she got them straight from the horse’s mouth. She saw Trevor Linden in attendance and went up and said that her friend “Comets Cory” was wondering what the lineup would look like today, and what do you know…Trevor Linden gave her the lineup and told her to say, hi.
— Cory (@CoryHergott) April 21, 2018
Comets Starting Lineup
15 Zack MacEwen – 21 Michael Chaput – 40 Lukas Jasek
14 Tyler Motte – 11 Cam Darcy – 77 Nikolay Goldobin
7 Tanner MacMaster – 36 Wacey Hamilton (A) – 34 Carter Bancks (C)
18 Vincent Arseneau – 19 Cole Cassels – 58 Michael Carcone
28 Patrick Wiercioch – 5 Jalen Chatfield
55 Guillaume Brisebois – 26 Jaime Sifers (A)
6 Ashton Sautner – 8 Dylan Blujus
30 Thatcher Demko
Trent Cull started with Zack MacEwen, Carter Bancks, and Wacey Hamilton up front today, but the lines ended up shaking out as I have them listed above. MacEwen wasted no time in getting the first shot of the series out of the way early in this one, but Garret Sparks was ready with the save. Dylan Blujus followed up with a chance of his own and Sparks had that one as well.
The first period was a physical affair from both teams as Tyler Motte was hit from behind early and was down for some time before making his way to the bench slumped over. Unfortunately, the Comets ended up being assessed with a too-many-men penalty as he was struggling to the bench and they were headed to their first penalty kill of the day.
Lukas Jasek served the penalty and we saw Michael Chaput, Wacey Hamilton, Dylan Blujus, and Ashton Sautner out as the first penalty-killing unit. Demko would come up with a save on a Miro Aaltonen shot and the Marlies would come up empty. The good news outside of getting the first kill was that Motte made his way onto the ice as part of the second unit.
The Comets were bringing the hits early and the big fella was no exception as MacEwen was laying the body often.
The teams would have some good back and forth as Demko turned aside a shot from Jeremy Bracco before Jalen Chatfield went the other way with a wrister that was tipped wide. Demko would follow up with a big save as he and Chatfield had some miscommunication at the side of the net that led to Colin Greening being stymied by Demko on a back-door chance.
The Comets were back to the penalty kill as Vincent Arseneau was whistled for interference at the 9:51 mark. The Marlies would get a net-front scramble going early and Demko was quick with a pair of saves. Mason Marchment let fly with a shot that felled Ashton Sautner and the Comets defender skated slowly to the bench. He would return for his next shift and the Comets managed another good kill.
Nikolay Goldobin was buried into the boards from behind by Colin Greening and it was the Comets turn with the man advantage. Goldobin was shaken up on the play, but he too would return. Greening would receive a boarding minor for his reckless play.
Bad hit here from Colin Greening on Nikolay Goldobin. Gets a boarding penalty for it. pic.twitter.com/4V07U9mLyo
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) April 21, 2018
The Comets rolled out a power play of Chaput, MacEwen, and Motte up front with Goldobin and Wiercioch manning the points. Goldobin set up MacEwen in front and the big fella showed some nice moves as he spun around for a backhander that Sparks denied. Carter Bancks, Tanner MacMaster, and Cam Darcy were the second unit up front, with Dylan Blujus and Lukas Jasek running the blueline. Blujus had a point shot turned aside before Tanner MacMaster followed up with an opportunistic chance from in close that Sparks denied as well. The Comets power play would come up empty.
Vincent LoVerde was looking to get the Marlies on the board with a hot wrister, but Demko flashed the leather to keep the game knotted at zero. There would be more back and forth as Chaput had a chance in close turned aside by Sparks before Pierre Engvall went the other way with speed for a chance that Demko was ready for, turning it aside with his blocker.
The Cassels, Carcone, Arseneau line followed up with a good forechecking shift late in the game. Guillaume Brisebois would see a wrist shot turned aside by Sparks before Demko came up with a blocker save at the other end.
The first period finished deadlocked at zero with the Comets showing a 9-6 advantage on the shot clock.
The Marlies started the second period off with some good pressure in the Comets zone early. Jaime Sifers was forced into a great defensive play as he muscled a Marlies forward off the puck in the Comets zone to break up a scoring chance.
Michael Carcone picked up the puck in the neutral zone and gained speed, going inside out on Martin Marincin for a chance that he shot wide of the net. Cole Cassels followed up with a chance of his own, but Sparks was ready with the save. Tanner MacMaster dished a pass to Jalen Chatfield for a point shot that Sparks was more than happy to gobble up and hold for the whistle.
At the other end of the ice, Trevor Moore ripped a shot off the iron before Carl Grundstrom was stoned by Demko. Wacey Hamilton was sent to the box for hooking as the whistle blew and the Comets were back to the penalty kill.
The Marlies got some traffic in front and sent a point shot on net that Demko smothered with a crowd forming. Calle Rosen followed up with a point shot that Demko blockered away before turning aside a Timothy Liljegren offering as well. The Comets were coming up with a few shot blocks of their own to help keep the game tied at zero. The Comets would come up with a good kill.
Dylan Blujus must have figured that the penalty killers needed some more work as he was quickly sent off for holding after the Hamilton penalty expired. The Comets were doing some great work on the kill to keep this one scoreless, and Demko was doing his part as well, going post to post to stop Mason Marchment from wide open in the slot. The Comets had another good kill in the books after this one expired.
I have mentioned in this space a few times about the improvements made in Zack MacEwen’s skating and the big fella showed another quick three steps today to separate himself from a Marlies player before unloading with a clapper. The shot was tipped wide, but that burst of speed was nice to see.
MacEwen followed up that tipped clapper with a wrist shot that Sparks denied.
Jeremy Bracco put the Marlies up 1-0 when he picked off a Michael Carcone miscue and beat Demko high over the blocker. The unassisted goal was the first of the series.
Demko came up with a nice save right after the Bracco goal to show his team that he was still in the game.
Dylan Blujus and Ashton Sautner had back-to-back chances turned aside in the Marlies’ zone before Demko came up with a save on Chris Mueller. Lukas Jasek got filled in along the boards by Mueller and the rookie winger popped right back up and got back into the play.
Pierre Engvall got a shot away that Demko turned aside before Jalen Chatfield showed some great wheels to beat Mason Marchment to a loose puck in the Comets zone to send it the other way. The Marlies kept coming as Adam Brooks had a shot turned aside by Demko before Trevor Moore came with a rising shot that was steered out of play by the Comets netminder.
Tanner MacMaster sent a nice pass to Carter Bancks for a backhand chance that was denied before Bancks followed up with another chance that Sparks turned aside as well.
Sparks would take a tripping penalty on Michael Chaput and the Comets were off to a late power play. Trevor Moore had a shorthanded chance denied by Demko and that was the best chance on the Comets man advantage. The Comets would come up empty again.
Demko would come up with a pair of saves on Calle Rosen and Trevor Moore to close out the period. The Marlies showed an 11-8 advantage in shots for the middle frame.
Dmytro Timashov got the third period started with an early chance that was denied by Thatcher Demko before Martin Marincin was sent off for holding at the 2:52 mark.
Demko was busy on this kill as he shut down Timashov on a shot off the near wing before turning aside a Chris Mueller one-timer. Jeremy Bracco followed up with a shot from the circle that Demko scooped up. Mason Marchment got into Demko’s face and a brief scrum ensued that resulted in Marchment heading off to the box for slashing.
The two clubs spent 41 seconds playing four aside before the Comets finished with 1:20 of power play time. Vincent LoVerde took an untimely delay of game penalty when he sent the puck over the glass to give the Comets a brief, 39-second five-on-three man advantage. Trent Cull would call his timeout at this point to try to come up with a play to tie the game.
While the Comets weren’t able to tie the game during their five-on-three man advantage, Zack MacEwen would score to even the game while the Comets had their five-on-four power play. MacEwen jumped on a rebound and buried it behind Sparks for his first pro playoff goal. Congrats, big fella. The goal was the first of the 2018 playoffs for a Comets player. Tanner MacMaster earned his first pro playoff assist on the play, while Michael Chaput picked up his first assist of the post-season.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) April 21, 2018
The Marlies put on the pressure after the MacEwen goal and the Comets were doing great work to block shots under pressure, keeping the game tied at one. Carl Grundstrom came in off the wing and with a shot and Demko said no.
At the other end of the ice, Guillaume Brisebois unloaded with a high shot that Sparks turned aside. Zack MacEwen forced a turnover and Ashton Sautner was the beneficiary of it, ripping a shot on net that was redirected off the post.
Justin Holl went the other way for a shot that Demko turned aside before Holl got the puck back and put a shot through traffic from the point that beat Demko for his first of the playoffs. Dmytro Timashov picked up his first helper of the post-season, while Ben Smith did the same.
Michael Carcone saw a golden opportunity slip away as there was a puck loose in the Marlies’ crease that was just out of his reach and he was unable to close on it before it was poked out of harm’s way by a Marlies defender.
Martin Marincin was whistled for tripping at the 15:32 mark and the Comets were headed to a late power play. Lukas Jasek showed his great wheels when he gained the Marlies’ zone with speed and cut to the net with one hand on his stick but was unable to beat Sparks for a goal.
Tanner MacMaster was showing well again today, getting a chance in front with a crowd forming that was denied by Sparks. The puck went the other way and Demko came up with another save of his own. The Comets would come up empty with the extra man once more.
Michael Chaput would get the fans back home in Utica up out of their seats when he ripped a one-timer past Sparks with just 35.6 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at two. The goal was Chaput’s first of the 2018 post-season and second point of the game. Nikolay Goldobin picked up his first helper of the playoffs while Patrick Wiercioch grabbed his first as well.
— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) April 21, 2018
Carl Grundstrom was penalized for a high-stick with just five seconds remaining and the Comets would finish the period on the power play. The third period would end with the Marlies showing a 14-8 advantage for the frame.
The Comets had 1:55 of power play time to work with to start the period but they looked sloppy and ended up giving up a shorthanded chance that Demko would turn aside. They would come up empty again.
Garret Sparks was playing well today and it showed early when he shut down a Tanner MacMaster chance before robbing Cam Darcy by doing the splits to make the save.
Cole Cassels scored right after the Darcy chance but the officials waived it off immediately. Full discloser here as I try to explain what happened. I saw the play unfold as it happened, but was unable to dig into any kind of replay to confirm, as AHL Live deemed it more important to show us a dancing Marlies logo instead of the replay. What I saw was Cole firing the puck into the net as Chris Mueller, (I believe) jammed his stick into the mumbles of Garret Sparks, knocking his mask off and cutting him open for a few stitches. It was a Marlies stick that did the damage, so having that goal waived off hurt.
Moving on, Jalen Chatfield showed those silky smooth wheels when he took a pass at speed and broke into the Marlies zone with a shot that Sparks denied. In the Comets’ zone, Carter Bancks lit up Andreas Borgman with a big hit that caused a turnover the other way. The captain brought a physical game today.
Demko would come up with a pad save on Adam Brooks before Mason Marchment was whistled for hooking after taking down Nikolay Goldobin. The Comets power play was flat once more and they came up empty.
Michael Carcone was sent off for tripping at the 8:55 mark and it was the Marlies turn with the extra man. Vincent LoVerde uncorked a one-timer that was first blocked and then cleared by Jaime Sifers. The veterans showed well today for the Comets. Miro Aaltonen followed up with a one-timer of his own that was shut down by Demko. LoVerde had a one-timer chance turned aside as well when Demko kicked out his leg to make the save and the Comets would come up with a good kill.
There were a lot of people who were understandably upset that Jonathan Dahlen was in the press box today, while veteran players like Wacey Hamilton were playing. If you look at things through the coach’s lens, you can see why he feels a little bit better putting in one of his alternate captains for the opening game and having Dahlen watch from above for the first game anyway. Hamilton blew up Chris Mueller with a hit in the Comets’ zone that led to the Comets going the other way with the puck.
— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) April 21, 2018
Tyler Motte, who is all of 5’9″ and 188lbs, saw Hamilton’s hit and raised it when he lowered the boom on the 6’5″, 232lbs Frederik Gauthier along the boards. The Comets were pushing the physical pace today.
Miro Aaltonen let fly with a slapper that Demko got a pad on before Aaltonen jumped on a loose puck for a chance that Thatcher denied as well.
The rest of the game looked a bit like Demko was in a shooting gallery as Calle Rosen had a shot turned aside with the blocker before Thatcher came up with a big save on a point shot. Tyler Motte followed up with a big shot block on a rebound chance. Pierre Engvall was shut down by Demko as well before Vincent LoVerde saw his point shot padded away to the corner. Thatcher whipped out a quick leg to stop Dmytro Timashov on his chance to follow up the save on LoVerde.
Ashton Sautner was sent off for hooking at the 17:11 mark and the Comets were back to the penalty kill. It took just 37 seconds for Chris Mueller to beat Demko for the overtime winner. The goal was the first of the post-season for Mueller, while Timashov picked up his second helper of the day and Calle Rosen earned his first.
That was it in Toronto as the Marlies take game one, 3-2 in overtime. The Marlies outshot the Comets 16-9 in the extra frame. Toronto outshot Utica 47-34 for the game.
The Three Stars in the building today were:
3rd Star: Thatcher Demko. 44 saves.
2nd Star: Garret Sparks. 32 saves.
1st Star: Chris Mueller. One goal.
CanucksArmy’s Three Stars
3rd Star: Zack MacEwen: The big fella played in his first AHL playoff game and he looked good today. He had the Comets first shot on net today and he picked up his first AHL playoff goal. He was throwing his body around from the get-go and he once again showed that nice burst of speed that I have been seeing from him in the latter part of the season. If MacEwen had playoff jitters today, you wouldn’t know it by watching him play. I look forward to seeing what he can do the rest of the way. He led the Comets with five shots on net today.
2nd Star: Michael Chaput: Chaput picked up a goal and an assist today to give him a pair of points in the Comets first game. Chaput has been the Comets best pivot all season and I expect that to continue the rest of the way. He has been a leader on this club all season and a player that Trent Cull has been happy to give lots of special teams work to this year. I can see a case for the Canucks/Comets to bring Chaput back with a qualifying offer and have him in Utica next season as part of their leadership group and as a guy who can be called up for fourth line duty when needed.
1st Star: Thatcher Demko: Demko posted 44 saves today and he played a very good game. He looked calm and relaxed in his first pro playoff game. Demko has shown time and again this season that he can be the backbone of this team and give them a chance to win each and every game. This is going to be a series where the goaltending will play a huge role in a team’s ability to move on. After watching Thatcher play all season in Utica, I have confidence in his ability to help carry this team on a long run if he can get some offensive support.
Round One | Game Two
At Toronto Marlies
Sunday, April 22nd, 2018
1:00 pm Pacific