UTICA, N.Y. – Before the Comets game against the Rochester Americans, Canucks Nation learned from Canucks GM Jim Benning that defenseman Olli Juolevi, had been removed from the active roster to be evaluated by Canucks medical staff in Vancouver.
According to the press release from the Canucks’ Twitter account, Juolevi was removed from the active roster due to a lower-body ailment unrelated to his recent knee injury.
Juolevi’s indefinite absence comes as a huge blow to the Utica Comets, who had been relying on him quite heavily through the first fourteen games of the season.
Juolevi was playing first pairing minutes at even-strength on top of a heavy dose of special teams time. Juolevi had been the quarterback of the first power play unit while also being one of the teams most relied upon penalty killers.
The injury comes as a major blow to Juolevi’s already stunted development path. Last season, Juolevi went down with a season-ending injury after 18 games played; he made it to 14 this season.
The coaching staff’s utilization of Juolevi this season can now certainly be brought into question, given that the Canucks spent so much of their preseason discussing the importance of load management regarding Juolevi’s recovery.
Was Juolevi being relied on too heavily?
Was it not better to cut his minutes earlier in the season when NHL talent was abundant in the Comets daily roster?
Have any lessons been learned?
Saturday night against the Rochester Americans, after a grueling win Friday night, the coaching staff of the Comets elected to give Zane McIntyre his second start of a back-to-back weekend. McIntyre disappointed heavily against the Amerks, as he managed just 18 saves on 22 total shots.
The Amerk’s ability to score four unanswered proved too much for an exhausted Comets lineup to overcome. Perhaps, if load management indeed was a priority of the coaching staff, the team might have chosen to use their stud rookie goaltender Michael Di Pietro to close out the back-to-back. Di Pietro’s 1.96 goals-against average and 0.928 save percentage has put him in the top ten of AHL goaltending.
And that’s after three losses and just one overtime win on his November record!
This November hasn’t been nearly as kind to McIntyre. After starting the season with an impressive 0.944 save percentage and a 1.79 goals-against-average, McIntyre has posted a 0.870 save percentage and a 3.91 goals-against-average. The drastic drop-off in November has seen McIntyre slide out of the top ten of AHL goaltending to outside of the top 20 of AHL goaltending.
There was certainly more nuances to Saturday’s loss against the Rochester Americans, but first, we’ll look at the starting lineup.
THE STARTING LINEUP
Joining Juolevi on IR was forward Seamus Malone, who picked up an arm injury late in Friday’s game against the Syracuse Crunch. The absence of Malone prompted hard-hitting winger Vincent Arseneau to get shifted up the lineup to the team’s third line.
Because the injury to Malone happened so late, the Comets were unable to get a replacement forward in time for Saturday’s game against the Amerks. So, to supplement the team’s lack of available forwards defenseman Josh Teves slid into a fourth-line winger role.
Kalamazoo Wings centerman Tanner Sorenson would have slid into that fourth-line role had he arrived in time. Sorenson has three goals and three assists in six games played with the K-Wings this season.
|Goldobin (#77)||Hamilton (#36)||Boucher (#24)|
|Bailey (#95)||Jasek (#9)||Lind (#13)|
|Arseneau (#18)||Perron (#27)||Bancks (#34)|
|Teves (#4)||Taylor (#14)||Stevenson (#26)|
|Sautner (#6)||Chatfield (#5)|
|Brisebois (#55)||Rafferty (#25)|
|Blujus (#8)||Eliot (#52)|
|Jonah Gadjovich||Carter Camper||Seamus Malone||Olli Juolevi|
|Tanner Sorenson (unavailable)||Richard Bachman||Stefan LeBlanc|
The Comets started strong, as the freshly promoted Arseneau scored the game’s opening goal a mere two minutes in. The goal came off a brilliant move from Francis Perron, as he slipped a check along the Amerks blue line to race down the left wall. Upon reaching the bottom half of the circle, Perron ripped a centering feed towards the net, where a crashing Arseneau tapped in the puck over the shoulder of Amerks tendy Andrew Hammond.
Just a few minutes removed from the opening goal, the Comets struck again, this time on the power play after the Amerks Tage Thompson got dinged for holding.
The power play tally came similarly to the Perron/Arseneau goal, only this time Reid Boucher raced down the right wing with the puck to send a no-look centering pass over to Nikolay Goldobin. The picture-perfect, rink-wide feed landed right on the tape of Goldobin’s stick. Hammond had no chance on the speedy play, as Goldobin ripped a quick one-timer shot over Hammond’s blocker side.
After the early two-goal lead, however, the Comets collectively appeared to lose all of their steam. The Amerks rallied to punish their deflated foes, as they went on to rattle off four unanswered goals over the remaining 55 minutes of the game.
Not helping the Comets’ evening was a serious lack of discipline. After the Goldobin goal, the Comets went on to take 14 minutes worth of minor-penalties. The frequent trips to the penalty kill contributed to the Comets inability to generate any semblance of momentum.
The Comets did eventually pull McIntyre for the extra man in the waning minutes of the game.
It once again fell to Boucher to get the Comets on the board. With less than 40 seconds remaining in the game, Boucher sent a puck towards the crease of Hammond’s net. Defenseman Brogan Rafferty capitalized on the loose puck to bat one in behind Hammond to put the Comets within one late.
The late goal wasn’t enough for the Comets to mount a comeback. With twenty seconds left in the game, Boucher registered his tenth shot on goal with a blast for the right circle.
Boucher was the Comets most consistent threat throughout the evening, as he ended his night registering those ten of the Comets 28 shots on goal.
Time and time again on Saturday night, the Boucher and Goldobin combination proved to be the only pair who could establish quick passing plays and scoring chances against the Amerks.
Every other line for the Comets spent their evenings skating themselves out of prime shooting locations, getting muscled off the puck, or outright turning over the puck with slow, ineffective passes.
Fortunately, the Comets have another four-day break to work through the kinks of their game. Exhaustion during Saturday’s game is understandable, given the grueling nature of Friday’s win over the Syracuse Crunch. But the Comets need some offensive consistency from their bottom-nine forwards if they want to turn around their November slump.
CODY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
* Reid Boucher – 0G+2A, 10 shots
* Brogan Rafferty – 1G+0A, four shots
* Nikolay Goldobin – 1G+0A, two shots
THE COMETS TRAJECTORY?
The Comets return this upcoming Wednesday when they face off against the Binghamton Devils for the sixth time this season. 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!