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Photo Credit: Cory Hergott

Comets Weekly: Utica goes 1-1 in opening weekend of action as Focht, Lockwood and others impress

Welcome to CanucksArmy’s new Comets Weekly feature where I will give you a recap of how the Utica Comets made out in their games for the week, and keep you up to date on all things Comets.

Game One was worthy of a full recap which you can read here:

Kole Lind nets a pair in Comets’ 3-2 win over Rochester in season opener

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The team that shouldn’t have any trouble scoring had trouble scoring last night in game two, and their defensive game wasn’t so great either. The Utica Comets followed their big brother’s lead last night and laid an egg in their game against the Syracuse Crunch. Sloppy play, missed assignments, a poor showing in the faceoff circle and a strong effort from Syracuse netminder Sam Montembault all conspired to put Utica on the wrong end of a 6-1 final score.

The Comets looked like they would get an early chance to pick up where they left off in Friday’s game after Daniel Walcott was sent off for a slash just 51 seconds into the opening frame. The problem? A Kole Lind faceoff loss in the offensive zone led to Syracuse possession and a shorthanded break the other way. That break ended with a Gabriel Fortier goal and the Comets were behind early.

They never did get their power play going in this game, going 0/5 on the night while their penalty kill gave up one goal on five Syracuse opportunities.

Faceoff losses were a common theme for Utica on Saturday. Carson Focht won a few, but otherwise, the Comets came out on the losing end of the bulk of the draws. It’s tough to build momentum in a game when you are constantly trying to get the puck back.

Speaking of Focht, I liked what I saw from him on a number of plays in this game. His stick was active in picking off pucks and forcing turnovers, he won a few faceoffs, and he looked like a threat to score on a couple of occasions. That’s a positive for me today. The rookie pivot was out on the penalty kill in the first period and had a shorthanded scoring chance foiled by Montembault.

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Kole Lind scored a pair of goals in the first game of the season, but it wasn’t the best game that I’ve seen him play. He struggled a bit more today as he lost more faceoffs than he won and had a handful of unforced errors that led to Syracuse possession. It’s only two games, so we need to be patient as Kole adjusts to his new responsibilities as a center at the pro level.

It wasn’t all bad for Lind though as he forced a few Syracuse turnovers as well.

The Comets coaching staff juggled their lines a little from the first game. We saw Will Lockwood bumped from fourth-line duty in game one up to the second line with Lukas Jasek and Curtis McKenzie today. That looks to be Trent Cull’s defensive line or shutdown line if you want to call it that. That trio was cooking for a few shifts in this one, but they weren’t able to make anything happen at five aside play.

The Crunch went up 2-0 mid-way through the opening period after Jake Kielly was deceived by a shot through heavy traffic. This one was scored by Otto Somppi.

The Comets’ first line was looking to pull to within a goal in the late going, but Montembault said no and they were off to the room down by a pair.

The middle frame started with another Kole Lind turnover that sent the Crunch the other way. No harm was done and Kole was soon getting a shot off on Montembault at the other end but the netminder was ready with the save.

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With Sven Baertschi in the box for a trip, the crunch went up 3-0 on a goal by Alex Barre-Boulet. He kind of had his way with the Comets last year too.

It was about 30 seconds after the Barre-Boulet goal when Jonah Gadjovich and Luke Witkowski made acquaintances with a brief tilt that saw few punches thrown.

The Comets showed a little bit of life when Lind and Sam Anas broke in two-on-one but Anas couldn’t bury his shot after a nifty feed from Kole. The life that Utica had shown was quickly snuffed out when Henry Bowlby made it a 4-0 lead for Syracuse after redirecting a Ryan Lohin offering behind Kielly.

The game saw a couple of stiff hits and Kole Lind was on the receiving end of one from Witkowski, but he was able to bounce back up and stay in the play. Nathan Walker, however, ended up leaving the game late in the middle frame and did not return.

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The Comets had a power play to work with, but once again gave up a shorthanded scoring chance. Jake Kielly held the fort and kept the score as it was.

Soon after, it was Utica who had a penalty to kill as Tanner Kaspick was dinged for tripping. This time it was Utica’s penalty killers who were being cheeky as Lukas Jasek and Curtis McKenzie broke in on a two-on-one that saw McKenzie bury a sweet pass from Jasek to pull the Comets to… uh… within three.

That was it for the middle frame. The Comets managed to outshoot Syracuse 12-9 in the second after being on the opposite side of that same shot total in the first. For the second game in a row, Utica was outshot in the opening frame but bounced back to outshoot their opponent in the game. Today they ended up outshooting the Crunch by a count of 33-31 for the game.

The Comets gave themselves some life with a shorty late in the period, but they came out flat and Jake Kielly had to come up with a big save early.

Utica looked like they were trying to up the physical play a bit as Lockwood filled in Chase Priske with a stiff hit, but soon after the Crunch went up 5-1 on a goal that Jake Kielly would want back. You know, I hate when people say that a goalie “would want that one back.” Of course, the goalie wants it back… they don’t want any pucks getting by them… but that phrase seems to be the right one here. It was an ugly goal off of a fortunate bounce for Syracuse.

Vincent Arseneau likes to dish the hits and he absolutely crushed his man and sent him staggering back to the Syracuse bench. Vinny would be tossed from the game in the late going after turning his stick into a pile of rubble when he tapped Luke Witkowski on the shins with it.

That didn’t happen until after the Crunch had salted this one away with their sixth goal of the game. The game ended with the Crunch taking a convincing 6-1 win in the first of 14 games between the two clubs this season. They won’t all be wins this year, but they won’t all be blowouts like tonight either. The team has all week to practice and right the ship as they don’t play again until hitting the road to Binghamton for game three on Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific.

How the Canucks’ prospects fared

As for the Canucks prospects in this game, we saw Lind, Focht, Gadjovich and Jasek on the power play, while Focht, Jasek, Woo, Teves, and Lockwood all saw time on the PK. Woo had some decent moments where he made the right play to regain possession in his own end and made a couple of solid outlet passes, but his season will continue to be a work in progress. He’s had a different partner in each of his first two games, so chemistry might take some time for him to build with the player to his left.

Lockwood made some nice plays, dished some stiff hits and showed off his wheels. His offensive instincts might need some encouragement, but I think he can get there. Teves continues to skate well, but aside from that, I’m just not sure what the Canucks saw when they signed him to the same deal that Brogan Rafferty got. It’s only the second game of the season, he has time to improve, but he’s being used in a second pairing role and he might be better suited to the third group.

Jonah Gadjovich had a quick fight tonight, was credited with three shots and played his typical physical game. He didn’t jump off the ice to me, but he wasn’t one of the players who had a tough game defensively. Kole Lind on the other hand finished the game minus two and didn’t have his best game in the circle. He was picked off for a couple of odd-man rushes again as well. I’m not worried about the player, I have confidence that he will tighten things up as he adjusts to the shift to the middle.

Carson Focht was the bright spot for me in this game for the Canucks prospect side of things. The speedy pivot was credited with five shots on goal to match the AHL’s leading scorer from last year as Sam Anas was also credited with five. Focht had a couple of scoring chances that were ever so close to going in and also nearly had an assist in the dying seconds but Monetmbault came up big.

I had never seen Focht play a game of hockey before this weekend. I have come away impressed with the fact that he does not seem the least bit timid on the ice in his first two games. He is showing that he skates well and can be disruptive enough with his active stick to force some turnovers for his line. He was winning some faceoffs in this game and has been a penalty-killing regular so far. That seems like a good first step for the rookie forward.

Jake Kielly finished the game with 25 saves on 31 shots, but I would be hard-pressed to lay the blame for this shellacking solely at his feet. This defence group is very green. Steven Santini has 106 games of experience at the AHL level along with 116 games in the NHL, but he’s been tasked with trying to tame the wild game of Tyler Tucker as his partner. Tucker, by the way, has a whopping four games of pro hockey experience… including the two games this year.

Mitch Reinke has 124 games at the AHL level and one in the NHL, but he’s an adventure on his own and has Josh Teves and his 31 games of AHL experience on his left. The third pairing has seen Jett Woo and his two games of pro hockey experience lined up with Mitch Eliot, who has 28 games at the AHL level, and Josh Wesley. Wesley has 135 games at the pro level… in the ECHL while getting into 73 more in the AHL.

This is all to say that the Comets goaltenders will likely have some awfully red necks from that goal light shining on them so often this season until this green blueline gains some valuable experience. Over their first two games, the Comets have allowed 60 shots on net while being credited with 67. It’s good that the team has been outshooting their opponents, even if it’s only by a little, but the quality of shots that they are giving up is disproportionate to the ones that they’ve been getting.

The team will also want to stay out of the penalty box as they currently lead the AHL with 33 minutes. 10 of those came from BigVinny’s misconduct at the end of today’s game but that still puts them eight minutes ahead of the rest of their division.

Utica’s coaching staff will need to get right back to work this week. The Comets have been outscored 8-4 over their first two games and that doesn’t seem like a recipe for winning games. With the blue line that they have, we know they will need to outscore the opposition as their defence might take some time before they can be counted on to lock things down.

We finish the week with goals from Kole Lind, (2), Jonah Gadjovich, (1) and Curtis McKenzie, (1). Assists go to Sam Anas, (2), Lukas Jasek, (2), Sven Baertschi, (1) and Mitch Reinke, (1).

Until next week…