UTICA, N.Y. – Heading into the weekend, the Comets had never started a regular season with a win-streak, let alone a four-game win streak. To keep their record-setting momentum and make it five straight, they’d have to close out their weekend with a win against division rivals, the Rochester Americans.
The Comets spent the first part of their double-header demolishing the Calder Cup champion Charlotte Checkers’ 8-2. The Amerks spent theirs in a tightly contested match against the Cleveland Monsters, only to end up losing in the shootout.
The Comets currently lead the AHL in goals-for and lead the AHL in goals-per-game, scoring an average of 5.5 goals-per-game. The team closest to them are the Tucson Roadrunners, who’ve scored an average of 4.67 goals-per-game.
To say that the Comets dominance hasn’t been impressive would be a lie. The team has come back from four one-goal deficits to win three times to start the season. Most impressively, however, is the teams’ ability to maintain relentless pressure against their opponents. In four games, the Comets have rattled off three or more unanswered goals four times.
Too often last season, the Comets were content to sit back on a lead and play keep-away. So far, this season, the Comets are employing a completely different philosophy. Each game has seen the Comets come back from deficits to establish their relentless pressure. Sure, the team has defensive lapses here and there, but right now, they’re playing entertaining hockey that’s leading to complete blowouts of fierce competition.
The Starting Lineup
|Reid Boucher||Carter Camper||Kole Lind|
|Nikolay Goldobin||Lukas Jasek||Sven Baertschi|
|Justin Bailey||Francis Perron||Zack MacEwen|
|Seamus Malone||Wacey Hamilton||Vincent Arseneau|
|Guillaume Brisebois||Brogan Rafferty|
|Olli Juolevi||Jalen Chatfield|
|Josh Teves||Dylan Blujus|
|Healthy Scratches||Stefan LeBlanc||Mitch Eliot||Dyson Stevenson||Michael Di Pietro|
|IR||Tyler Graovac||Carter Bancks||Jonah Gadjovich|
The Comets were looking to have a repeat of the Charlotte game against Rochester to start the first period. The only problem was the Rochester Americans were lighting the Comets up with shots.
After nine minutes of play, the Comets had one weak backhander from Sven Baertschi on goaltender Andrew Hammond. Whereas, after 9 minutes of play, Rochester, had registered ten shots against Comets’ tendy Zane McIntyre.
Just when things were looking grim for the Comets. Something incredible happened when Andrew Hammond took a page from Alex Nedjelkovic’s book. Hammond misplayed the puck behind his net, allowing Sven Baertschi to steal and bounce a shot off a sliding Jean Sebastien–Dea for the opening goal of the game.
As they’ve done for the past three games, the Comets didn’t let up either. Just 20 seconds later, Kole Lind sent a wicked cross-ice pass to Dylan Blujus below the circle. Blujus then set up Reid Boucher at the front of the net for an easy redirect-goal. The goal was Boucher’s seventh in five games played. The primary assist from Blujus was his third point in as many games played.
The two-goal lead allowed the Comets to generate a fair bit of momentum, which was short-lived, however, as rookie forward Seamus Malone took a tripping penalty to put the Comets on their second penalty kill of the period.
On the penalty-kill, the Comets did the unthinkable. Olli Juolevi, after several impressive shot-blocks, launched an incredible slap-pass to Reid Boucher on the Rochester blueline. Boucher raced for a two-on-one alongside Wacey Hamilton, and together they combined for the Comets second short-handed goal in as many games.
Incredibly, the team that led the league in short-handed goals against last season has now earned themselves two short-handed goals for, just this weekend alone.
In the waning minutes of the period, the Americans finally capitalized on their pressure. A bad giveaway by defenceman Brogan Rafferty resulted in a wicked top-corner snipe from Rochesters’ Tage Thompson to cut the Comets lead to two.
It wasn’t pretty by any stretch, but for the second game in a row, the Comets’ rattled off three straight unanswered goals to start the game.
The second period started quite well for the Comets. Just one minute into the period, Justin Bailey forced a turnover, leading to a disgusting Zack MacEwen goal. The goal was MacEwen’s second of the year and the Comets 18th goal in three games.
The Comets looked to be making up for the lack of pressure they had in the first period by finally kicking into gear in the early minutes of the second.
Around the 16-minute mark of the period, things started to spiral out of control once again. Francis Perron took a tripping penalty in the offensive zone. After defending the six-on-five delayed penalty, Perron shot the puck in frustration over the glass. The referee’s handed him a game misconduct for throwing equipment and the Comets were down a center for the remainder of the game. Vincent Arseneau went to the penalty box to serve the minor.
The Comets penalty killers came up huge once again. Unfortunately, the penalty killing didn’t end with the Perron minor. After serving the Francis Perron penalty, Vincent Arseneau took a tripping penalty as he left the box. The Arseneau penalty put the Comets right back on the penalty kill.
Things got worse during the Arseneau PK, Hamilton took his second slashing penalty of the game to put the Comets on an extended 5-on-3 penalty-kill.
Much to the Rochester coaching staff’s displeasure, the Comets penalty killer groups did fantastic to kill-off the dual penalties. To the pleasure of the Utica faithful, Hamilton drew a penalty after a scoring chance to give the Comets their first powerplay of the game.
The Comets began to look quite exhausted, starting with the powerplay. The powerplay failed to generate any shots. Afterward, the Comets began playing sloppy and undisciplined, with even more penalties called against Comets players. Josh Teves took a holding minor with two minutes remaining, and then Blujus took a high-sticking penalty in the waning seconds of the second.
Realistically speaking, the Comets should have been losing this game given the number of penalties they’ve taken and the shots they’ve given up. But McIntyre was rock-solid in net as he stopped 34 of 35 shots in just 40 minutes of play. Special commendation had to go to the Comets penalty-killing groups who, in just this one game, managed to elevate the Comets PK% to the 7th best in the AHL.
The third period was rough for the Comets with the full two-minute penalty kill to start. But they successfully repelled their seventh Rochester powerplay.
The Comets managed a powerplay of their own, but once again failed to generate any semblance of offense.
With 12 minutes remaining in the game, the Americans were nearly doubling the Comets in shots-against. It wasn’t until the Comets managed to get themselves a two-man-advantage on the powerplay after a Jacob Bryson delay-of-game penalty.
The league’s 23rd ranked powerplay finally capitalized when the two-man-advantage ended. Sven Baertschi pulled off a slick spin-o-rama on the blueline to then set up a crashing Boucher for his second goal of the night, and his league-leading eighth goal of the season.
Rochester’s frustration at being unable to crack the Comets defense started to show. Despite the Americans getting themselves their eighth powerplay of the game. Mere seconds into the powerplay, Hamilton drew a tripping penalty on Rochester’s Lawrence Pilut.
Thirty seconds into four-on-four hockey, the Comets again capitalized on a Rochester puck-misplay. This time Nikolay Goldobin picked up a Baertschi rebound at the front of Andrew Hammond’s pads to notch his first goal of the season.
Ten seconds after that, Goldobin was forechecking aggressively in Rochester’s end when he won a board battle out to Lukas Jasek, who notched his second goal of the season. Mercifully, the Rochester coaching staff finally pulled Andrew Hammond with just seven minutes remaining in the game.
The Jasek goal meant the Comets had scored 15 goals in two games. The Comets 29 goals for leads the league and their goals-per-game puts them in a league of their own. The Comets have a goals-per-game average of 5.80/game, a full goal ahead of the next leading team, the Stockton Heat, who average 4.80 goals-per-game.
This period of even-strength dominance can’t last forever. It won’t often be that a team can hemorrhage 46 shots against and come away with a seven-to-one victory at home. Realistically speaking, the sky-high shooting percentages of several of the Comets goalscorers indicates that a “coming back to reality” moment will eventually happen. For now, all Utica Comets fans can do is enjoy the ride and appreciate what’s been, a remarkable five-game win streak to start the season.
Cody’s Three Stars
- Zane McIntyre – 45 saves on 46 shots. The absolute difference-maker for the Comets to dominate
- Nikolay Goldobin – One goal and one assist to make it nine points in just four games with the Comets. Massive offensive threat whenever he touches the ice
- Reid Boucher – Two goals to become the AHL’s leader in points and goalscoring.
The Comets Trajectory?
The Comets get a bit of rest as they take the week off. The team returns Friday night when they take on the Binghamton Devils at home. The Devils and Comets last played opening night when the Comets rattled off four unanswered goals to defeat the Devils in regulation. Puck drop is at 7:05 pm EDT / 4:05 pm PT.