The Utica Comets played just one game over this past week and we saw rookie defender Jack Rathbone pick up his first AHL goal, bringing his points total to five points in three games played. Seems good.
Jonah Gadjovich stayed hot with his seventh goal in eight games played this season, while Kole Lind, Will Lockwood, Lukas Jasek, and Kole Lind also earned points in the loss.
The special teams battle once again saw the Comets doing great work on a penalty kill that went 2/0, but they also gave up a shorthanded goal on a power play that went 1/8 on the night. The Comets managed to outshoot Rochester by a count of 33-23 but still ended up on the wrong end of a 4-2 decision.
Speaking of shots… we might need to start calling Will Lockwood “Shooter” if he has many more games like he did this past Wednesday. The rookie winger was credited with a game-high of seven shots on goal with Rathbone up next with four of his own.
Part of the issue that the Comets are currently facing is the fact their roster has been thinned out by call-ups to St. Louis, along with a couple of injuries. Sam Anas, Nathan Walker, Dakota Joshua, Steven Santini and, most recently, goaltender Jon Gillies have all been summoned by the Blues, while forwards John Stevens and Hugh McGing are out with injuries. This has left the club with one option… they have been rolling with seven defenders and 11 forwards over their past two games.
This game started in a promising fashion for Comets fans, however, a couple of mistakes at the end of the first period and the beginning of the second cost them dearly.
Utica opened the scoring just 59 seconds in when Jonah Gadjovich did JonahOnTheSpot things to grab his seventh goal in just eight games this year. This was a pretty typical goal from Gadjovich as the big man has been money in the dirty areas in front of the net. It was a case of this line putting the puck on the net and crashing it to cash in on a garbage goal. The plan worked and put the good guys up 1-0. Lockwood and Lind each earned their third assist of the year on the play.
The opening frame saw a good bit of back and forth with the Comets being credited with just over double the shots that the Amerks were with a 14-6 margin.
Will Lockwood came to play in this one and although he was rewarded with an assist on the Gadjovich goal, he looked like he was trying very hard to grab his first pro goal as well. Sure, he put seven shots on the net over the game, but Lockwood was playing his trademarked physical brand of hockey as well. He showed the Amerks that he meant business with a chip and chase play the ended with him delivering a thunderous hit on his man in the corner.
There were some good plays in the opening frame, and some not-so-good ones. Lukas Jasek fell into the latter category when he coughed up the puck in his own end, leading to some extended pressure by the Amerks. On the other side of the scale, Josh Teves came with a well-timed pinch to hold possession for the Comets in the offensive zone soon after.
Once again, the Comets coaching staff had the opportunity at times in this game to throw their new “FabFive” out together. That group consists of Sven Baertschi, Lind, Jasek, Rathbone, and Jett Woo. It is a sight to see when they are out there throwing pucks around to each other as if on a string.
Another familiar sight over the past couple of games is a second line that features rookie Carson Focht between veteran Curtis McKenzie and Nolan Stevens. That trio plays with some physicality and Focht has been a big part of that. He is quickly becoming a player who opposing defenders need to be aware of when he is on the forecheck. He moves on them quickly and isn’t afraid to lay the body when the opportunity presents itself. No points for Focht in this one, but he had a solid game.
It was near the end of the opening frame when the first mistake bit the Comets on the backside when Casey Fitzgerald knotted the game at one with a quick shot through traffic off of an Amerks faceoff win. The goal came with just over two minutes remaining in the period.
The Amerks kept it coming as Brandon Biro walked rookie defender Tyler Tucker to get in for a scoring chance that he put wide. Jonah Gadjovich followed up with a big hit at the other end that led to a Brett Murray holding call and the Comets would finish the period on the man advantage. They wouldn’t be able to make it count in the final 15 seconds of the first period, so it carried over to the second. Seems good, no?
Well… no, not really.
The Comets opened the middle frame up a man and brimming with confidence, however, the very same Casey Fitzgerald who had tied the game late in the first, also put the Amerks up 2-1 just nine seconds into the second. Doesn’t seem so good.
He’s still learning the position, and it’s still a work in progress for Kole Lind, but both of those goals came after he lost the faceoff. I’m not blaming the player for the goals, he is still making his way in the faceoff dot, but he will want to keep honing those skills.
The Comets were not able to get that goal back on the power play, but they were given another chance soon after. Once again, they came up empty. We did see a brief glimpse of Woo at the end of this PP, but I think that was more of a case of his duo being next up in the rotation at the time.
As has been evidenced in every game this year, Lockwood can wheel out there and he used his speed to get past his man for a shot that was fired wide of the net. The goals and points will start coming for Lockwood if he continues to play the way he has been this year.
Most of the positives that we have seen from Jett Woo over the first handful of games were coming from his physical play and some solid defensive work, but the offensive contributions won’t be far off. We have seen Woo’s confidence grow on the offensive side and that will lead to points. He used a nice outlet feed to send Baertschi in alone for a chance that was denied by Amerks netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
I’ve had a tough time seeing what the Canucks saw in defenseman Josh Teves that would explain his one-way deal this year, but I will say that he has shown better in his most recent games. He found himself on the wrong side of a two-on-one break and did a great job of defending the rush while directing forward Curtis McKenzie when the veteran caught up to the play on the backcheck.
Soon after, McKenzie was dinged for interference and the Comets were off to the PK. Utica came away with a good kill and soon after Jasek took a stick up high. He stayed in the play and no penalty was called, forcing Jon Gillies to come up with a big save. Woo followed up with a smart stick to break up an Amerks play.
The Comets had a disastrous shift that was as sloppy as the day is long and it ended with the puck being fished out of the back of their net. This time Brett Murray was doing the damage when he cashed in on the yard sale that was happening in the Comets’ crease. I hate having to point out that number 13 was on the ice for this one as well.
Utica picked up a power-play soon after the Murray goal, but it was short-lived as Lind was whistled for a trip to send the teams to four aside play where Gadjovich had a great chance that was turned aside. The Amerks would have had a brief power play to work with, but rookie Jack Quinn played the puck while his feet were still in the penalty box as his infraction had expired and he tried to join the rush a little too early.
The period ended with another solid hit dished out by Lockwood, a diving Rathbone to dodge a big hit sent his way, as well as another nifty play from the rookie defender to set up a chance for Tanner Kaspick that was denied.
That was it for the middle frame where the Comets outshot the Amerks by a count of 9-5 but found themselves down 3-1.
The Comets came out swinging in the third as Lind had a nice backhand attempt thwarted at one end before a Tyler Tucker giveaway resulted in a big save from Gillies at the other. The Comets headed back the other way where McKenzie nearly scored from behind the Amerks’ goalline. The saves kept coming from UPL as he stymied back-to-back chances from Jasek and Mitch Eliot.
Utica kept the pressure on as Lockwood sent a backhander towards the net that was turned aside before Vincent Arseneau steamrolled Oskari Laaksonen… as is his way.
The Comets’ second line kept the heat on along with the duo of Teves and Eliot on the backend. Once again, we saw some confidence from Woo as he used a well-timed pinch to keep possession in the offensive zone and that resulted in another opportunity for Baertschi, but UPL said no.
The pressure resulted in another power play for Utica and they ended up with a five-on-three advantage after Lind took a high-stick that caused a leak. This was where Jack Rathbone made the Amerks pay when he unloaded a RathBomb of a one-timer for his first pro goal to pull the Comets to within one. Mitch Reinke played set-up man for his sixth helper of the year, while Baertschi earned his fifth.
Utica still had some PP time to work with after that beauty from Rathbone, but Lockwood put an end to that when he was dinged for holding to send the teams back to four aside play.
We saw a nice shift from Woo here where he broke in for a scoring chance that he put wide of the net before he drew another penalty for his team. Overall, Woo’s game has seen steady improvement since the start of the season.
The Amerks would add an empty-net-goal to salt this one away and the Comets headed home with a loss.
How the Canucks Prospects Fared
Jack Rathbone, first pro goal.
Jonah Gadjovich, one goal.
Kole Lind, one assist.
Lukas Jasek, one assist.
Will Lockwood, one assist/seven shots on goal.
Jett Woo, leads the team with +5 overall on the season.
Carson Focht, tied for second on the team with 20 shots, (with Jonah Gadjovich) behind Sven Baertschi’s 21.
Trent Talk/Woo-ing The Crowd
This is normally where I would be sharing some of the information that I had gleaned from the week’s post-practice Zoom call, but I was under the weather while it happened. I did manage to speak with Jett Woo about his first month of pro hockey later in the day, however, so I have linked that below.
Until next week.