WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Last Saturday, the Utica Comets won their debut for the first time since their 2014-15 campaign. This Saturday, the Comets hit the road for their second game of the year. This time against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL’s Atlantic Division.
The Comets saw the debut of former Canucks regular Sven Bäertschi, who was last seen in a Comets uniform back in 2014-15. In 15 games, Bäertschi put up seven goals and eight assists in 15 regular-season games, followed by eight goals and seven assists in 21 playoff games.
Joined by Bäertschi was fellow Canuck castaway, Nikolay Goldobin, who returned to the Comets lineup for the first time since 2017-18. Goldobin finds himself at a crossroads in his career as he attempts to establish himself as a regular top-six winger in the NHL. Goldobin last appeared in 33 games with the Comets across two seasons, where he put up 13 goals and 35 assists.
Since We Last Met
Coming into Saturday’s matchup with the Penguins, Trent Cull was forced to throw his lineup into the blender. With Bäertschi (Veteran) and Goldobin (Veteran Exempt) added to his roster, Cull had to find a way to balance his overflowing number of veteran wingers with a diminishing number of centers due to the injury sustained to Tyler Graovac in the Comets opening match of the year.
One of the significant concerns coming into this year’s campaign for the Comets was the lack of available non-veteran centers to their roster. Currently, the Comets are down to just two developmental players who could play center in Lukas Jasek and Seamus Malone (presently on IR). With Adam Gaudette on his way to establishing himself as a full-time NHL center, it is unlikely the team can count on his return.
For the current veteran centers, the team has Tyler Graovac, Carter Camper, Wacey Hamilton, and Carter Bancks, who can slide from the wing to third or fourth-line center in a pinch. With Graovac out with injury, however, piecing together a lineup that includes them with the sudden, overwhelming number of veteran and veteran-exempt wingers might prove difficult for Cull and his staff. What works for the Comets short term success might have to come at the expense of established pro’s sitting in the press box.
THE STARTING LINEUP
|Sven Baertschi (#47)||Carter Bancks (#34)||Justin Bailey (#95)|
|Reid Boucher (#24)||Carter Camper (#19)||Kole Lind (#13)|
|Nikolay Goldobin (#77)||Lukas Jasek (#9)||Zack MacEwen (#15)|
|Jonah Gadjovich (#21)||Dyson Stevenson (#26)||Vincent Arseneau (#18)|
|Guillaume Brisebois (#55)||Brogan Rafferty (#25)|
|Olli Juolevi (#48)||Ashton Sautner (#6)|
|Josh Teves (#4)||Jalen Chatfield (#5)|
|Zane McIntyre (#31)|
|Dylan Blujus||Wacey Hamilton (veteran)||Stefan LeBlanc||Francis Perron (IR)||Tyler Graovac (IR)||Seamus Malone (IR)|
The Comets started the period off on the wrong foot, first, a giveaway off the opening draw nearly lead to a Penguins scoring chance. Following that, Kole Lind then took a high-sticking penalty 1:40 into the period to put the Comets on the penalty kill.
The Comets PK groups were effective in thwarting any Penguins offense. Zack MacEwen and Justin Bailey, in particular, had a strong shift on the PK as they combined for a dangerous shorthanded chance to close out the Penguins powerplay try.
On his next shift, Bailey again put on a speed showcase with an end-to-end rush where he drew a penalty and gave himself a scoring chance on the Penguins netminder Emil Larmi.
The Comets first powerplay of the game struggled as they spent the majority of their time on the man-advantage, struggling to break out of their end.
The lack of chemistry and coordination from the Comets this period was quite apparent. The fourth line in particular (who had a strong game last Saturday) bled shots against, with Dyson Stevenson in particular, struggling to match the tempo and vision of his linemates and opponents.
The tide began to turn in the Comets favor in the back half of the period when Reid Boucher picked up a loose puck off of a faceoff draw to score his first goal of the night.
Two minutes after the scoring opened, the Comets found themselves on their second powerplay of the night. This time, a blast from the blue line from defenseman Olli Juolevi gets blocked and redirected right to an open Reid Boucher, who buried his second of the night.
Despite the apparent lack of chemistry and cohesion, the Comets found ways to make it work and headed into the first break of the evening up 2-0 and edging the Penguins in shots, 11 to 10.
The second was a forgettable one for the Utica Comets. Three undisciplined penalties, two soft powerplay goals against, and misfirings of breakout attempts all over the place. Despite putting up ten shots to the Penguins 14, the Comets looked outmatched through much of the second period.
The defense struggled mightily through 20 minutes of play, the lone exception to this being Brogan Rafferty, who looks to be the Comet’s most composed defenseman of the night. Too often were their misplays from the Comets blue liners that led directly to dangerous shorthanded chances for the Penguins.
Things started poorly for the Comets once Vincent Arseneau took a hooking penalty, a mere three minutes into the period. Just six seconds into the powerplay, David Warsofsky launched a bomb from the blue line into the pads of Comets netminder Zane McIntyre. The Comets failed to clear the loose puck at their crease, and Penguins forward Stefan Noesen gave a few whacks at the puck to cut the Comets lead to one.
Things got worse from there; a couple failed breakout attempts from the Comets led directly to shorthanded chances for the Penguins. The tempo of the game might have swung in the Comets favor after Dyson Stevenson drew a tripping penalty; however, the Comets struggled mightily throughout their two minutes on the man-advantage. The most significant struggle happened after a failed drop pass from MacEwen to Boucher, leading to a takeaway for the Penguins and a two-on-none shorthanded chance.
Zane McIntyre certainly was tested this period, constant shorthanded chances for the Penguins forced McIntyre to come up huge on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, the Comets found themselves playing shorthanded after getting caught with too-man-men on the ice. While on the penalty kill, once again, McIntyre struggled to find his groove. Just 12 seconds elapsed before another blast from David Warsofsky found its way into the back of the Comets net.
The rest of the third was more of the same from the Comets, risky break out attempts failing, poor play setup, and more penalty killing. That was until Jonah Gadjovich managed to draw an interference penalty from Niclas Almari to put the Comets on the powerplay.
In the waning minutes of the period on the powerplay, Gadjovich found himself on a breakaway behind the defense. Penguins defender Matt Abt hauled Gadjovich down, giving the 21-year-old forward a penalty shot attempt. The penalty shot attempt wasn’t successful, but it did give the Comets a bit of momentum to close out the period.
The Comet’s third period began exactly as the previous two periods had, with the Comets hemmed in their end, struggling to complete a successful breakout.
After about eight minutes of struggling to generate offense, the game began to get chippy after Kole Lind baited Penguins forward Anthony Angello to drop his gloves. Angello took the bait, getting called for roughing and putting the Comets on a badly needed powerplay.
The powerplay, however, failed to generate any momentum for the Comets. The Comets spent the majority of their two minutes on the man-advantage hemmed in their end. After the Comets finally gained the zone, Penguins defenseman Jon Lizotte sent a rink-wide pass to Anthony Angello as he left the penalty box. Angello was in deep behind the Comets defensemen and scored an easy go-ahead goal to give the Penguins the lead.
Around the ten-minute mark of the period, Nikolay Goldobin took a hard hit from Anthony Angello, prompting Vincent Arseneau to come to the Russian forwards’ defense on his next shift. Arseneau tried to instigate a fight with Angello; however, Angello learned from his previous mistake to not get baited into fighting so quickly. Arseneau went to the penalty box for roughing, and the Comets were back on the penalty kill.
The Penguins pressured hard on their fifth powerplay of the night. However, solid shot-blocking from Olli Juolevi and clutch saves from Zane McIntyre prevented the Penguins from extending the lead.
The game picked up for the Comets in the final five minutes of the third period, culminating in a clutch game-tying goal scored by the teams’ Captain, Carter Bancks.
The team somehow pushed this game into overtime, earning themselves a point they had no business obtaining. The final five minutes showed the momentum swinging marginally in the Comets favor; with the Comets ending the period with six unanswered shots on goal
Amazing what a five-minute rest before overtime can do! Lo-and-behold overtime began precisely as the three periods before it, with the Comets getting dominated in their end by the Penguins.
After giving up six unanswered high-danger scoring opportunities, the Comets finally began to break out of their zone, led by Sven Bäertschi through center. Bäertschi handed off to defenceman Brogan Rafferty who managed to draw-in two defenders as he waded towards the Penguins net, only to set up Lukas Jasek at the backdoor for the game-winning goal.
CODY’S THREE STARS
- Brogan Rafferty
- Reid Boucher
- Lukas Jasek
The Comets Trajectory?
The Comets somehow win their second straight on the road. Although the Comets didn’t make it easy on themselves, they managed to earn two points in a game where they arguably should have come away with none.
The Comets return to action Wednesday for the home opener, as they take on the Syracuse Crunch. Puck drop is at 7:05 pm EDT / 4:05 pm PT.
If you want more Utica Comets coverage, you can always visit The Comets Harvest for a more detailed look into each Comets game!