Utica Comets Power Play Options
In my pre-game report that was posted ahead of the Comets game against Springfield on Saturday, I made the suggestion that the club might want to give their power play a new look as the club had gone somewhat flat with the man advantage of late.
The Comets power play could use a new look as they have been dropping in the standings, currently sitting 16th after scoring 40 goals on 214 man-up opportunities, giving them a success rate of 18.7%. Their penalty kill was a little better, but could still improve, sitting 11th in the AHL after giving up 34 goals while down a man 192 times for an 82.3% success rate.
Springfield’s special teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum as their power play sits first overall after scoring 60 goals while up a man 238 times for a 25.2% success rate. Their penalty kill, however, was near the bottom of the league, sitting 28th overall after giving up 47 goals while shorthanded 215 times for a 78.1% success rate. This might be a good game for the Comets power play to break out of their doldrums.
The team did just that and ended up going 3/4 with the extra man for the night. In fairness, they were also playing against one of the worst penalty kills in the AHL.
Previous to Saturday night, we have often seen a first unit that consisted of Jonathan Dahlen on the left side, with Tanner Kero, Zack MacEwen, and Reid Boucher as forwards with Evan McEneny as the lone defender. Many teams use a four-forward-one defenceman look, but this group had gone a bit flat and a shakeup was needed. Olli Juolevi was money on the first unit before going down with his season-ending knee injury.
The second unit has seen a few different looks but has mostly been made up by some combination of Brendan Gaunce, Kole Lind, Lukas Jasek, Guillaume Brisebois, Adam Gaudette, Jesse Graham, and most recently, Tom Pyatt. Those units were shuffled up on Saturday and saw some favourable results.
On Saturday, we saw the first unit of Kero, MacEwen, Boucher, McEneny, and Schenn, along with the second unit of Gaunce, Dahlen, Lind, Saucerman and Brisebois. The first unit saw McEneny and Kero pick up goals, while Schenn grabbed two helpers and Boucher and Kero picked up one apiece. The second unit saw Dahlen score a beauty with nice assists from Lind and Gaunce.
These alignments allowed Dahlen to be more of the trigger man from the right circle on the second unit while keeping Boucher in his money spot in the right circle with the first unit. Earlier in the season, we saw Boucher and Dahlen swap sides with lacklustre results, so this new set up was worth a look to help get that second unit going.
I like the idea of giving Dahlen a look as the go-to-guy on the second unit as the young winger has been able to put up some solid points with the man advantage so far this year in more of a secondary role. Dahlen has put up 15 of his 23 points with the extra man this season with eight goals and seven helpers. When 65% of your points come on the power play, it’s probably a good idea to be the feature on one of your team’s units.
This is a good time to take a look at who makes up this Comets roster so that we can identify some targets to round out the second unit. The lines listed below are not necessarily the way the team rolls out, but just one of the alignment options that I would like to see looked at.
Jonathan Dahlen – Adam Gaudette – Reid Boucher
Kole Lind – Tanner Kero – Zack MacEwen
Tom Pyatt – Brendan Gaunce – Lukas Jasek
Jonah Gadjovich/ Vincent Arseneau – Cam Darcy/ Brendan Woods – Carter Bancks/Wacey Hamilton
Guillaume Brisebois – Luke Schenn
Ashton Sautner – Jalen Chatfield
Evan McEneny – Jaime Sifers
Stefan LeBlanc/Cliff Watson – Dylan Blujus/Jesse Graham/Colton Saucerman
The team can only dress five veteran players in a given game, so that is something that needs to be considered. The club currently has six players who fall into that category, (Boucher, Pyatt, Hamilton, Bancks, Sifers, and Schenn).
Personally, I feel that the team is better suited to have both of Sifers and Schenn in the lineup when healthy. The backend has been a bit of a rough spot for the Comets this year and the pair will help to steady that. I also feel that Boucher and Pyatt should stay in the lineup in order to help provide more offence. That leaves us with a rotation on Bancks and Hamilton for the final spot.
I am not certain that the coaching staff would be willing to go that route, but I feel that Hamilton and Bancks bring similar enough games that it makes them the most interchangeable of the vets while keeping a consistent style of play.
The other rotations up front would also be on the fourth line as I would have Jonah Gadjovich and Vincent Arseneau rotating on the left side until Gadjovich forces himself into more of a full-time role, while Cam Darcy and Brendan Woods alternate in and out in the middle. Woods/Darcy should be able to help pick up the defensive slack while one of Bancks/Hamilton sits.
The Comets are not blessed with a bevy of power play producers who can join Dahlen on that second unit as Gaunce, Lind, Jasek, Brisebois, Tom Pyatt, and Cam Darcy have just 12 power play points between them. Adam Gaudette was ill for the last two games and was not available, but I’d like to see him join Dahlen on that new-look second unit to help pump it up a little more. Gaudette has put up three of his 11 points on the man advantage this year with the Comets.
I like the look of the first unit from last game. Kero, Boucher, MacEwen, McEneny, and Schenn have combined for 60 power play points this year and should be able to produce on a consistent basis.
With that group sorted, let’s have a look at who can make up the second unit.
If we know that we want to have both of Dahlen and Gaudette to be part of things, that leaves us with three more spots. It’s generally a good idea to have at least one defender as part of that group. So, who remains on the backend to man one of the points?
The first thing that we need to think about is who will likely be available on a regular basis and not be coming in and out of the lineup. When healthy, Guillaume Brisebois, Ashton Sautner, Evan McEneny, and Jalen Chatfield are regulars on the backend, so using one of those fellows probably makes the most sense. With McEneny already manning the point on the first unit, he’s out.
Jesse Graham was brought in as an offensive option and has put up six of his 12 points on the power play and brings a right-handed shot to the table with him. He is currently injured and listed as week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
Jalen Chatfield is also a righty, but offensive production hasn’t been a big part of his game with the Comets to this point. He has picked up one assist in his 16 games this year, (he missed 27 games with a broken foot). Let’s leave Jalen out of the power play equation for now.
Ashton Sautner has also missed time with an injury but is expected to return soon. Sautner hasn’t been a big point producer as a pro either, although he does have one PP marker this season and it was with a bomb of a shot. I think Sautner is likely better suited for a defensive role, so I will leave him off of the second unit for now as well.
That leaves us with Guillaume Brisebois, Colton Saucerman, Cliff Watson Jaime Sifers, and the newly acquired Stefan LeBlanc as healthy options. Olli Juolevi and Dylan Blujus join Graham on the injury list at the moment.
Brisebois would seem to be the obvious choice at first glance as none of the remaining defenders have shown a ton of offensive ability to this point, not that Brisebois has been the second coming of Bobby Orr. The wildcard here for me is newcomer Stefan LeBlanc. I can’t profess to have an abundance of knowledge as far as LeBlanc’s game goes, but he does have at least a little bit of history of point production and from what I have read, he moves the puck very well.
LeBlanc has played in 17 games for the Marlies this year, picking up seven assists, one of them on the man advantage. He has also played in 26 games with the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL, picking up one goal and seven helpers on the power play for them.
It might be tough for LeBlanc to get minutes ahead of current lefties Brisebois, Sautner or McEneny when all are healthy, but it is very possible that one or more of the above three will be seeing time with the parent Vancouver Canucks soon-ish. Canucks General Manager Jim Benning mentioned recently on TSN1040 in Vancouver that he wants to see players like Brisebois, Sautner, and Chatfield get a look with the big club down the stretch. Sautner was mentioned specifically as a player who he felt is ready for some NHL minutes.
If Sautner/Brisebois were to be called up, that would open the door for LeBlanc to get a look for a regular spot on the left side to show what he can do.
So, what would a second unit look like?
I’d like to see a group consisting of Gaudette, Lind, Dahlen, Brisebois/LeBlanc and Graham when healthy/in the lineup. Brendan Gaunce can step in up front in the event of an injury/call-up. Lukas Jasek has seen time on the power play this year and has not really been able to stand out, but could also be spotted in. Tom Pyatt could be cycled in if one or more of the defenders is not available due to injury/call-up/scratch. Jonah Gadjovich could also see time as a net-front guy when the team feels that he is ready for such duties. He has seen some time there already on the second unit this season.
Power Play One
Kero – MacEwen – Boucher
McEneny – Schenn
Power Play Two
Lind – Gaudette/Gaunce/Gadjovich – Dahlen
Brisebois/LeBlanc – Graham/Pyatt/Jasek
I feel like these two groups would give the club a decent chance of improving their place in the standings on the power play while helping to develop the offensive games of some of their younger players.
The Comets will need to get their power play going if they want to have a successful stretch run and playoffs, should they get there. The above options aren’t the only ones available to the coaching staff, but I do think that they are worth exploring.
The Comets are back in action on Friday, February 8th when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms roll into Utica fo rgame number 49 of the season. As always, CanucksArmy will have you covered with your pre-game and post-game reports.