LAVAL, QC – The Utica Comets hit the road this past weekend for a double-header against the Laval Rocket. While one game was a 6-4 rout due to weak goaltending and poor defending, the other was a 4-2 victory featuring a rookie netminder standing on his head despite even worse defending than the previous game.
FRIDAY’S STARTING LINEUP
|Goldobin (#77)||Hamilton (#36)||Boucher (#24)|
|Bailey (#95)||Camper (#19)||Lind (#13)|
|Arseneau (#18)||Perron (#27)||Bancks (#34)|
|Gadjovich (#21)||Jasek (#9)||Stevenson (#26)|
|Sautner (#6)||Rafferty (#25)|
|Brisebois (#55)||Chatfield (#5)|
|Teves (#4)||Blujus (#8)|
|Seamus Malone||Olli Juolevi|
|Tanner Sorenson (unavailable)||Richard Bachman||Stefan LeBlanc||Mitch Eliot||Justin Taylor|
The Comets first game against the Rocket this weekend was a messy defensive disaster that saw Utica give up four straight unanswered goals, a recurring trend for the November Comets. Utica had some shining moments, such as Jonah Gadjovich’s return to the lineup after missing the past fourteen games with an upper-body strain.
Gadjovich was one of the few bright stars for the Comets, as he notched an assist and a goal to put him at a near point-per-game pace over his four games played.
The major talking point coming from the Friday’s 6-4 loss to the Rocket was the weak defensive play that prompted so many scoring chances against.
However, not all the blame could be targeted towards the Comets skaters, as the play of Zane McIntyre was quite questionable throughout the sixty-minute affair. For McIntyre’s second straight start, he posted a sub-0.820 save percentage and a goals against average higher than 4.00.
Four of the Rocket’s five goals against McIntyre were distance shots from outside of the half circle that went five-hole. Certainly, screens played a part in some of those goals allowed, but a goaltender with McIntyre’s wealth of experience shouldn’t be allowing that many weak goals in a single game, let alone in a thirty-five minute playing window.
Not helping the Comets heading into Saturday’s afternoon rematch was the loss of their captain Carter Bancks, who at some point had picked up an injury during Friday’s match.
The Comets’ Saturday effort was reminiscent of the club’s performances from earlier this season, where they hemorrhaged scoring chances against but manage to outscore their opponents by a wide margin.
The saving grace for the Comets in Saturday’s match was the stellar goaltending performance of rookie netminder Michael Di Pietro.
Di Pietro posted 41 saves on 43 shots against, with a 2.01 goals against average to completely stifle the offensive onslaught of Laval.
Without Di Pietro standing on his head, the Comets wouldn’t have been able to generate the offense necessary to eke out two points from the weekend.
The Comets got out to an early two-goal lead. But, once again, inadequate defensive coverage allowed the Rocket to tie-things up, leading to a very action-packed third period.
The game-tying goal from the Rocket perfectly exemplifies the poor defensive play that has been displayed by the Comets through the month of November.
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The game-tying goal started as most goals against have begun as of late for the Comets. The majority of the Comets begin the play with an over-extension in the offensive zone, followed by a complete misread of the developing play.
After the Rocket’s Otto Leskinen wins a board battle behind the net of Charlie Lindgren, the Comets continue recklessly with an aggressive pinch towards the Rocket’s left wall. Despite Leskinen having the time and space to make an outlet feed to force the Comets out of the zone, three Comets players slow down to watch Gadjovich attempt to stop Leskinen’s breakout pass.
By the time Gadjovich catches Leskinen along the boards, Leskinen flips a rink-wide feed out to Matthew Peca, who races past the flat-footed Comets. Jalen Chatfield attempts to chase down Peca to deny the breakaway feed, but it’s too late. Peca drops it off for a crashing Riley Barber, who gets the easy tap-in goal.
This type of play happened against the Comets ad nauseam this weekend. It is hard to believe that this is a personnel issue, that reading the play for this squad is that poor. This writer has to think that the aggressive forechecking and repeated odd-man rushes against are the result of a coaching philosophy, wherein the strategy instilled in this team is designed to see them play recklessly on the forecheck at the expense of bleeding scoring chances against.
This philosophy is in direct contradiction of Head Coach Trent Cull’s history as the former defensive coach for the Syracuse Crunch. It is worth noting that while Cull was the defensive coach for the Crunch, the team was outscored every single season until their Calder Cup Finals run in 2016-17. Since joining the Comets, Cull has had two seasons straight where the Comets have finished the season with a negative goal differential. It’s still early going and the Comets are in the positive, but it is hard to imagine that this reckless play style will result in a change to the narrative after this season.
Amazingly, after facing 43 shots on goal, Nikolay Goldobin also notched his first hat trick of the season. The most impressive goal in Saturday’s game was Goldobin’s first of the day when he “big-timed” Michael Pezzetta after scoring the easiest power play goal of his career.
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Pezzetta and Goldobin had been chippy with each other throughout the majority of the game. Late in the first period, Pezzetta sold an elbowing call that put Goldobin in the penalty box for two minutes to start the second period. Then, Pezzetta took a blatant interference penalty after making an inexplicable run at Comets defenseman Ashton Sautner.
After Goldobin notched his first power play tally of the night, he looked over to Pezzetta as he made the slow skate back to the bench and sarcastically mouthed, “Thank you” to him.
The hat trick for Goldobin put him in the lead for Comets scoring, with one point over Reid Boucher. Maybe Saturday’s impressive performance from Goldobin will earn him a look with the Vancouver Canucks? Otherwise, Goldobin will continue to be one of the Comets shining stars through this rough November patch.
CODY’S SIX STARS OF THE WEEKEND
* Michael Di Pietro – 41 saves on 43 shots
** Nikolay Goldobin – 3G + 0A – 3 shots
*** Jonah Gadjovich – 2G + 1A – 5 shots
**** Carter Camper – 1G + 4A – 4 shots
***** Francis Perron – 1G + 2A – 3 shots
****** Kole Lind – 0G + 2A – 2 shots
THE COMETS TRAJECTORY?
The Comets return home this Wednesday when they take on the Syracuse Crunch. 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.