SYRACUSE, N.Y. – It was a game of special teams Friday night at the Adirondack Bank Center. After a grueling, infraction filled battle against the Syracuse Crunch, the Comets rattled off three unanswered goals to beat the Crunch, 5-2 on the road.
The Comet’s five-goal game, punctuated by a Reid Boucher hat trick, was the Comets first five-goal game since October 25 when the Comets defeated the Binghamton Devils by a lopsided score of 5-1.
Boucher’s return off of IR could not have come at a better time.
This past week saw the Vancouver Canucks forward group begin to drop like flies due to injuries. With Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle joining an already lengthy list of players on the injured reserve. To help supplement their NHL roster through a trying November schedule, the Canucks called-up forwards Tyler Graovac and Zack MacEwen.
Had Boucher not returned to the lineup, the Comets top nine would effectively be without 50% of its top nine that started the season.
The primary question marks surrounding the Comets ability to produce without its major players still exist. Heading into Friday’s matchup against their division rival, there was no telling if Boucher’s return would be enough to compensate for a Comets offensive group that has looked woefully lackluster throughout November.
Fortunately, Boucher wasted no time in his return, and his game against the Crunch picked up exactly where he left off as the AHL leader in goal-scoring.
THE STARTING LINEUP
In the wake of the Graovac and MacEwen call-ups, Head Coach Trent Cull had some major shuffling to do now that he and his Comets were without a true top-six center.
There was also a shake-up to the d-corps, as Olli Juolevi sat out of the lineup for the first time this season for “load management” reasons. More on that later.
|Goldobin (#77)||Hamilton (#36)||Boucher (#24)|
|Bailey (#95)||Jasek (#9)||Lind (#13)|
|Malone (#17)||Perron (#27)||Bancks (#34)|
|Arseneau (#18)||Taylor (#14)||Stevenson (#26)|
|Sautner (#6)||Chatfield (#5)|
|Brisebois (#55)||Rafferty (#25)|
|Blujus (#8)||Eliot (#52)|
|Jonah Gadjovich||Carter Camper|
|Josh Teves||Richard Bachman||Stefan LeBlanc|
Forty seconds into the first period, Boucher was hauled down by the Crunch’s Luke Witkowski while on a breakaway. Syracuse’s Spencer Martin stopped Boucher’s penalty shot.
Cory Conacher took the game’s first penalty, 12:10 into the period.
The Comets first power play unit capitalized just four seconds on the power play. Kole Lind took the offensive zone faceoff draw and won the puck back out to Boucher on the right wing. Boucher stepped in for a laser of a one-timer that went bar-down over the left shoulder of Martin.
What followed for the next fifty minutes was an unprecedented series of back-and-forth penalty-taking between both the Crunch and the Comets.
The first period closed with an equalizing power play goal from the Crunch’s Alex Barre–Boulet. Barre-Boulet’s goal was near-identical to Boucher’s, as he found himself all alone in the circle with time and space. Barre-Boulet wound up for a slapper for the ages as his blast, too, went bar-down over the right shoulder of Comets netminder Zane McIntyre.
The second period is when the minor penalty-taking went off the rails for both teams. All told, the Comets and Crunch exchanged eight total penalties, including two fighting majors.
The Comets and Crunch exchanged another set of power play goals, with tallies coming from the Comets’ Lind, and the Crunch’s Boris Katchouk.
It wasn’t until the game’s brief period of 5-on-5 did the game begin to sway in the Comets’ favor. With 3:30 remaining in the second, Boucher scored his second goal of the night from an impossible angle. After entering the zone off a give-and-go with Nikolay Goldobin, Boucher raced down to the Crunch’s goal line for a pass. After receiving a feed from Goldobin, Boucher ripped a shot from the goal line that went off Martin’s back and into the net.
The Comets then added another tally from their captain Carter Bancks with 2:20 left in the period.
The third period nearly undid the Comets, as they went on to take five separate minor penalties. The Crunch, too, took two penalties of their own, giving the Comets’ penalty-killers a bit of a reprieve from the action. Still, however, the exhaustion of a grueling third period wore heavy on both teams.
By the final five minutes of the game, both teams were incapable of setting up proper cycles in the offensive zone due to their exhaustion.
On one of the Comets last penalty kills, the Crunch pulled their relief goaltender Scott Wedgewood in an attempt to cut the Comets’ lead with a two-man advantage. Boucher, however, came up huge once again for the Comets penalty kill. After picking off a cross-ice pass from Conacher, Boucher quickly set up from his right circle to wrist a rink-wide feed into the empty net. Boucher’s empty netter completed his fourth career hat-trick and re-asserted his place at the top of AHL goal-scoring.
* Olli Juolevi: Coming into Friday’s match-up against the Crunch, the Comets had three full days of rest, with Friday being a travel day to Syracuse. Juolevi was made a health-scratch as a precautionary measure in regards to “load management.”
This writer’s concern stems from the fact that Juolevi has been playing every one of his games in a very demanding role. Juolevi’s role to date includes playing first-pairing minutes at even-strength, quarterbacking the first-unit power play, and being one of the team’s primary penalty killers. It’s a concern that after such a healthy rest period, the team would think that healthy-scratching Juolevi could be considered precautionary load management. Why not scale back how demanding his role is in-game? Juolevi is a capable defender at the AHL level, and surely he can stand to have his minutes or the extent of his duties scaled back while not sacrificing his effectiveness or his knee’s recovery.
The team already has NHL-caliber defensemen waiting in the wings who can step into Juolevi’s role. Ashton Sautner, Brogan Rafferty, and to a lesser extent Guillaume Brisebois are all capable defenders at even strength who also play integral minutes on the Comets’ special teams. Juolevi doesn’t need to be a healthy scratch to aid in his recovery. A reduction of his role will undoubtedly do his body just as many favors as scratching him infrequently will. Juolevi is a warrior on the ice. This past Monday saw Juolevi block a painful shot with his arm while on the penalty kill. Seconds later, he blocked a second shot with his leg to then clear the zone before changing. Given his injury history, it’s commendable how he lays his body on the line to help out his team.
Eventually, however, Juolevi’s style of “sacrifice the body to make the play” will catch up to him. Hopefully, this scratching doesn’t mean it already has. If it hasn’t, then the team should heed this writer’s advice and consider scaling back Juolevi’s role so he can thrive in his development while still recovering.
CODY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
* Reid Boucher – 3G+0A, six shots
* Kole Lind – 1G+1A, two shots
* Nikolay Goldobin – 0G+2A, three shots
THE COMETS TRAJECTORY?
The Comets get a quick turnaround when they return home Saturday night to face off against the Rochester Americans. Puck drop is at 7:00 pm EST / 4:00 pm PST.
If you want more Utica Comets coverage, you can always visit The Comets Harvest for a more detailed look into each Comets game!
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