TORONTO – The Utica Comets hit the road again for another weekend double-header, this time against their division-leading rivals, the Toronto Marlies. The weekend was supposed to be the Comets statement to the North Division that they had gotten over their November growing pains. Instead, the weekend brought more questions than answers, as observers of the Vancouver Canucks farm team were once again left wondering whether this club is any good.
THE GOOD GAME (SATURDAY)
Utica’s weekend started out promising, with the Comets earning two points off a gutsy effort in a 4-3 regulation win.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup, the Toronto Marlies were coming off a Friday night road win against the Rochester Americans.
The Comets game plan was simple: capitalize on a tired Toronto team for their afternoon matchup, and don’t give them room to create offense.
Incredibly, despite giving up the game’s opening goal to former Comet Tanner MacMaster, the Comets didn’t give up.
First, they evened things out against the Marlies with a beautiful power play goal from Sven Baertschi.
The game-tying goal began with a carry-in from the team’s leading goalscorer, Reid Boucher. Upon entering the Marlies zone, Boucher drew three defenders towards him, at which point he quickly zipped a pass over to Kole Lind along the left wall. The space created by Boucher allowed Lind to find Baertschi in behind the Marlies defense for an easy wrister over the blocker side of Marlies goaltender Joseph Woll.
The Comets’ lead evaporated quickly, however, as the Marlies got themselves a power play tally off an easy tap-in goal from Kenny Agostino to regain the lead.
The second period was when Utica began to shut down the Marlies offensive generation, as the Comets held the Marlies to just 12 shots over the final forty minutes of play.
It was midway through the second when the Comets power play went two-for-two on the night, as Baertschi sent a cross-ice feed through several Marlies defenders to Justin Bailey on the doorstep of Woll’s crease. The tap-in goal from Bailey tied the game at two and signaled a significant momentum swing for Utica.
The Comets began the third period with a tie-breaking goal off a Lind one-timer from the high slot. The Marlies evened things out just four minutes later with a one-timer of their own. The third game-tying goal of the day came from another former Comet, Darren Archibald, who recorded his fifth goal of the season.
With the Comets and Marlies playing on a razor’s edge, the bounces finally went the Comets way off a rink-wide pass from Guillaume Brisebois to the tape of Boucher’s stick. Boucher found himself just the right amount of time and space to wire a rocket over the left shoulder of Woll to earn his league-leading 15th goal of the season.
The Comets closed out the game by holding the Marlies to just one shot on net over the final five minutes of the game.
Part one of the weekend game plan was complete. All the Comets had to do was repeat Saturday’s effort the following afternoon, a task that proved much more complicated than anyone anticipated.
THE BAD GAME (SUNDAY)
The Comets were looking for a repeat of Saturday’s efforts on Sunday when they began their rematch at the Coca-Cola Coliseum.
They even managed to get out to a 3-1 lead by the end of the second period.
Unfortunately, just as momentum had swung in the Comets direction Saturday, it swung even further in the opposite direction Sunday for the Marlies.
Despite holding a two-goal lead with twelve minutes remaining in the third period, Utica went on to face a firing squad from a desperate Toronto team.
The result? Four straight, unanswered, even-strength goals for the Marlies to win, 5-3.
The exhaustion displayed by Utica through the final twenty minutes of play was palpable. They knew it as much as the viewing audience did; the Comets play was embarrassing.
What should have been an impressive closer to their second roadie double-header weekend instead saw the Comets turned into a laughing stock. Utica left their goaltender Michael DiPietro high-and-dry time and time again, and with Sunday’s loss, they sit precariously in a three-way tie for third place in the AHL’s North Division. The Comets are just barely edging their rivals, the Belleville Senators and Laval Rocket, by way of goals for and games in-hand, respectively.
THE NICE LIST
While the Sunday effort was a complete embarrassment, there were still some good things to come out of it.
Secondary scoring came up big in the second game, as Jonah Gadjovich earned his fourth goal of the season to tie the game. A short-handed tally from struggling center-convert Lukas Jasek followed Gadjovich’s game-tying goal, giving the Comets their first lead of the game. Jasek has struggled with the move to center, but has found a niche as one of Head Coach Trent Cull’s premiere penalty-killing forwards. Jasek’s fourth goal of the season was the culmination of several weeks of penalty-killing acumen gained while playing alongside the Comets captain Carter Bancks.
Yes, Gadjovich and Jasek were on the ice for three of the Marlies four third period goals to close out the game. But, that shouldn’t take too much away from the duo’s earlier efforts. Without their goals, the Comets never would have found themselves in a position to defend a lead that late in the game. If it weren’t them on the ice, it would’ve been anyone, because the collective Comets squad laid an egg in Toronto during that third period. The Marlies impressive comeback was as inevitable as Thanos’ snap.
Without the Comets secondary scoring coming into play, Sunday’s game likely has less of a sting to it. The fact that there was a two-goal lead heading into the waning minutes of the third period is what makes their spectacular collapse so challenging to accept.
There’s no way the coaching staff will accept it either, and fans of the team should expect a new team Friday when they take on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
CODY’S THREE STARS OF THE WEEKEND
* Reid Boucher – 1G + 2A – 11 shots
** Brogan Rafferty – 0G + 4A – 4 shots
*** Michael Di Pietro – 39 saves on 47 shots
THE COMETS TRAJECTORY?
The Comets get a much needed, five-day layoff when they return home next Friday for a matchup against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. 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! Follow @CodySevertson on Twitter for all things Comets and “Like” The Sin Bin on Facebook for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL.