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Photo Credit: Cory Hergott

Comets Weekly: LFG Line heats up as Comets finish week with a win and a shootout loss

The Utica Comets came into the week having won a game in regulation, lost one in regulation as well as adding a shootout win to their cause. This week saw them grab a least a point in each of their games as they won their home-opener over the Syracuse Crunch before giving way to the Rochester Americans in a shootout loss.

In their first game of the week, the Comets skated away with a 5-2 win over an undermanned Syracuse squad who had seen their top sniper summoned by the parent club, while also facing some early injury issues.

This game saw the newly minted #LFGLine of Lockwood, (Will) Focht, (Carson) and Gadjovich, (Jonah) continue to impress as the trio came out with a physical effort and helped supply some of the offence in this game.

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Jonah Gadjovich would open the scoring after his line used their high work rate to force a turnover in their favour. Rookie defender, Tyler Tucker’s shot found its way to Will Lockwood along the right side boards where the rookie fired the biscuit toward the net where Gadjovich was ready for the redirect to notch his second goal of the season. Another case of Jonah being in the right place to make things happen. He knows where his bread is buttered. For Lockwood, it was his first pro point… ditto for Tucker.

We will cut Faber some slack here. He tweeted the goal as Gadjovich’s third, which would come later in the game, while I made the error of tweeting out that Jonah had scored his first of the year. It’s still early, folks and the players aren’t the only ones shaking off some rust.

The physical play would continue for the LFG Line and seems like it will be one of their calling cards going forward. I don’t want to give the impression that Lockwood, Focht, and Gadjovich are out there running around and crushing opponents all over the ice. They are just consistent in their efforts to use their bodies and sticks to separate players from pucks rather than waiting for them to make a mistake. Forcing turnovers when they don’t possess the puck seems to be the goal for this unit.

Lukas Jasek has also continued to quietly impress. The winger-turned-pivot has adjusted well to his role in the middle and looks to have settled in as the team’s “shut-down” center. He’s been lined up mostly with Curtis McKenzie who missed both games this week after the birth of his first child,Β  (congrats to the McKenzie clan) and Nathan Walker, who was called up to St. Louis’ taxi-squad on Friday morning.

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Jasek can get it done at both ends of the ice and was sitting second on the team in scoring by the time of this writing. Not bad for a late pick playing out of position with two unfamiliar linemates. Jassy might yet become an option at the NHL level if he can continue to refine his 200′ game.

As well as he was playing, Lukas was not involved in the goal that put the Comets up 2-0. That one came courtesy of a nice set-up from Sam Anas to Steven Santini while Kole Lind coasted in front to distract Sam Montembault. The Santini point-shot made it through untouched for his first of the season and the Comets were up 2-0. Sven Baertschi grabbed his third helper of the year on the play while Anas earned his fifth. That Anas fellow has some nifty puck skills.

Utica kept it coming as they went up 3-0 after Anas was at it again to set up Nathan Walker’s first of the year. This one came on the powerplay with Mitch Reinke being credited with the secondary assist. It sure is a treat to see Anas threading the needle with hard, crisp, accurate passes through traffic that seems to always land exactly where he is intending them to. The dude can dish.

Not every player on the Comets is a prospect of the Vancouver Canucks and the coaching staff in Utica assembled a fourth line for the two games this week that consisted of John Stevens with Dakota Joshua and Hugh McGing. McGing and Joshua are Blues’ property, while Stevens has an AHL pact with the Comets. That trio worked incredibly well as a high-energy line and we might not see them broken up anytime soon as a result.

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They were all in on the Comets 4-0 goal, but we saw Joshua whip out the moves reminiscent of Tyler Graovac in a few games last year. There’s just something about seeing a tall, lanky forward dangle through defenders that brings a smile to my face.

The Comets would end up letting the Crunch back into the game briefly as rookie defender Jett Woo had a learning moment on the penalty kill when his ill-advised pass ended up on the wrong stick and Jimmy Huntington made him pay.

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The Blues made it interesting with another goal roughly three minutes later but Jonah Gadjovich salted this one away with an empty-netter for his third of the year. Nolan Stevens and Lukas Jasek picked up their second and third assists of the year respectively on the play.

The Comets finished the game up 20-19 on the shot-clock to win their home opener with a solid team effort. They went 1/4 on the power play while also giving up one goal on four Syracuse opportunities.

We saw rookie blueliner Jett Woo cough up a puck which led to a goal and he also took a penalty in the third period after the Crunch had scored a pair of quick goals… yet head coach Trent Cull still rolled him out there in the waning moments of the game to help protect the lead. We will touch more on this in our Trent Talk segment at the end of this piece.

In the Comets’ second game of the week, they hit the road to Rochester to take on the Amerks for the second of 14 meetings between the two clubs this year. The Comets took advantage of a depleted Amerks lineup in their first meeting this season, coming away with a 3-2 win. Things would be a little bit more difficult this time around as Utica dropped a 4-3 decision in the shootout despite holding 1-0 and 3-2 leads in the game.

As mentioned, the Comets took a 1-0 lead in this game and it came as a result of a powerplay marker by Lukas Jasek. Jassy would finish this game with his first goal of the year and another assist to go along with it. There were a couple of things to like about this goal as we saw Jasek adding secondary offence from one of the dirty areas of the ice with a deft redirection of a Steven Santini blast, but as Faber pointed out in his tweet, have a look at that feed from Carson Focht to get this party started. Nice play from the rookie pivot.

The battle of the special teams continued as the Amerks came back with a power-play marker of their own to knot the game at one with Carson Focht in the box for a slash. Focht has been having a solid start to his rookie campaign, but he will need to ease up on the ill-timed penalties that have become a little too frequent in the early going for my liking.

The middle frame saw the teams trade a pair of goals each as the Amerks went up 2-1 before Jonah Gadjovich and Nathan Walker added back-to-back power-play goals to pull into the lead before Steven Fogarty tied the game at three with… you guessed it, a power-play goal.

The Gadjovich goal was a typical #JonahOnTheSpot specialΒ as the big man did his job in the net-front position where he has seen success due to his underrated mitts. Jasek won the faceoff back to Focht who did what he has been doing a lot so far this year, putting the puck on the net. Focht currently leads the Comets with 16 shots on goal credited to him. That’s where Jonah took over and did his thing.

Less than two minutes later, Nathan Walker was on the receiving end of yet another silly pass from Sam Anas and the Comets had the lead. That was Walker’s second goal, while Anas earned his seventh assist and Mitch Reinke grabbed his fourth.

The special teams’ battle ended with Amerks captain Steven Fogarty redirecting a shot past Jon Gillies with Carson Focht in the box for a trip to send the game to the extra frame. I don’t want to give Carson the nickname of FoghtInTheBox so early in the season, but he’s making it tough when ill-timed penalties lead to goals against.

I’m just messing around, I’m quickly becoming a Focht-A-Maniac, but the dude needs to chill with the penalties.

Overtime solved nothing and the teams headed off to the shootout where all three Amerks shooters scored while only Sam Anas was able to beat Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. That was it for the 4-3 shootout loss.

How the Canucks’ prospects fared

Once again, we saw the likes of Lind, Gadjovich, Focht, and Jasek on the power play, while Jett Woo, Jasek, Focht and Lockwood all saw some time on the penalty kill. I should add that right shot defender Mitch Eliot played both games this week, while lefty Josh Teves was scratched. Eliot saw PK time in both games this week.

Focht looked to have some of his PK time cut back as the coaching staff gave Dakota Joshua and Hugh McGing looks there as well. We will likely see that type of rotation continue throughout the season. Again, I think that Focht will need to curb his penchant for untimely penalties, but the rookie is showing well so far. He picked up a pair of assists for his efforts this week.

Kole Lind cooled offensively as he didn’t manage to add to his point totals this week, however, he did look to improve a little in the faceoff circle and he seemed a bit more engaged on the defensive side of the puck. The move to the middle continues to be a work in progress for Lind, but progress is being made.

Lockwood finally picked up his first pro point and it came as the result of hard work and solid defensive play. This will likely be the way for Lockwood as he is being groomed as a defence first PK specialist. He compliments his linemates well and the points will come as the trio grows as a line.

Jasek had a fine week with three points in his two games played. He is rounding nicely into a reliable two-way pivot. Time will tell if that can translate to the NHL level, but he is looking more comfortable in that role with every game.

The big winner for me this week was Jonah Gadjovich. He is up to four goals in five games this year while playing a regular shift on a line with a pair of fresh-faced rookies. His skating looks improved and it was something that I questioned him about during a post-game Zoom call after the home-opener.

I had noticed a play in the third period where he was taking a pass at speed at the offensive blueline and we saw Jonah open his body a little in order to accept the pass more cleanly and he stepped in to get a good shot away. I don’t recall seeing Jonah making moves like that at speed in his previous seasons and it attests to the work that he put in over a 10-month offseason. Jonah wasn’t messing around, he got after it.

Jawing with Jonah

As I mentioned, we were able to speak with Jonah after the Comets home opener and I brought up the play that I mentioned above. This was his response.

It was a really long offseason. I spent 10 months working on my game… getting stronger, getting faster, watching clips, watching videos. Then in training camp, I was learning from a lot of the guys in Vancouver, you know, how they play and their work habits. I just wanted my game to translate over here. After having two years under my belt I knew what I had to work on and the role that I had to start playing if I wanted to keep moving up the ladder. Skating was a big thing that I worked on and I think that I’ve done a good job with that. I’ve taken a step in the right direction and I think it’s just little things in my game that have improved, you know, maybe it’s being a split second faster and winning that puck battle whereas maybe in a previous year I wouldn’t have done that. I’m just trying to help the team win by playing my game.Β 

I also wanted to bring up the LFG Line and asked Jonah about how he feels they’ve played so far.

I love playing with those guys. We’re having fun out there in games and practice and I think the biggest thing is communication and we’re doing a good job there, you know, if I see something on the ice I’ll say hey, this is what I’m seeing and they’ll relay what they see. We have open communication between the three of us and I think that’s why we’re having some success right now.Β 

Chris Faber picked up on the work that Jonah put in over the offseason and circled back to that question as well as asking Jonah to touch on what he’s seen from Carson Focht so far this year as a fellow CHL player who is making the jump to pro.

I was training five to six times a week since our season ended. I think I took two weeks off when I knew I wasn’t going to Vancouver’s camp there for the bubble and then I didn’t take a single day off for the rest of the summer, I was going five/six days a week. I bought weights and then was back in the gym when stuff opened up again. I put in a lot of extra work, I took care of my body, I ate the right way, I got my rest and I did everything that I possibly could to find that next gear because obviously, my ultimate goal is to continue to develop and get to the NHL and play for Vancouver. That’s just something that I’m going to continue to do. It was definitely a lot of learning over the past two years, but I think I’ve taken a step in the right direction, I’ve gotten quicker, I think that I’m winning more battles, I think my shot is better, and I think I’m making better plays. I think overall that I’ve put in the work and I’m starting to see some results.Β 

I think Focht sees the ice really well and I really enjoy playing with him. I mean, he’s a young guy, but it’s a young man’s game, I guess, (laughing). He flys around the ice, he makes plays… yeah, I love playing with him, he’s a great dude.Β 

Faber also snuck in a question to Jonah about his thoughts on head coach Trent Cull’s new moustache… If you haven’t seen coach Cull’s cookie duster yet, have a gander at this beauty.

Jonah’s response… Ha! Looks great, I’m jealous…

Trent Talk

Speaking of the man with the Wyatt Erp-esque lip mop… it’s time to catch up with Trent Cull and get his thoughts after the team’s home opener.

I wanted to ask Cull about how he handled Jett Woo’s miscue that led to a power-play goal against the Comets and was followed up soon after by a penalty taken by the rookie. I asked Cull if he threw Woo back out there in order to help keep his confidence up or if it was just his turn to go back out there.

Where it’s at is we had a couple of goal cushion there, so we are going to try to get guys back out there in those situations. I don’t want to just eliminate guys for making a mistake once in a while. Mistakes are going to happen and we’re going to stay patient with our guys. We’re trying to find the happy medium of developing guys and giving them responsibility and still putting them in a winning atmosphere. If the score was different, maybe we would have gone a different way, but we’ll see how that goes in the future.

Overall, it was a decent week for the Utica Comets and the Canucks prospects who are playing there. We’ve seen nice steps taken by Jasek, Gadjovich, and Focht. We’ve seen Kole Lind’s offence drop off, but his overall game is looking better. Jett Woo continues to have his bright spots and some that are less so, while Will Lockwood picked up a point as the result of a hardworking shift and that plays right into the game that the team is looking for from the third-round pick from the 2016 draft.

Until next week…