Comets can’t convert power plays into win against Laval
UTICA — Two goals by Tanner Kero during a major penalty power play late in the first period were not enough for the Utica Comets, who fell to the Laval Rocket 4-3 Wednesday night at the Utica Aud.
The Comets jumped out to an early lead but Laval stormed back with three goals in the second.
After Rocket captain Byron Froese boarded Zack MacEwen, the Comets went on the power play for five minutes. With another Rocket called for a penalty during that power play, the Comets got a five-on-three advantage and Kero capitalized when Jonathan Dahlen passed to him from behind the net where he was waiting on the doorstep. He beat Rocket netminder Michael McNiven and put the home team up 1-0 with 4:24 left in the first period. Olli Juolevi also picked up an assist.
Because the subject of a major penalty stays in the box even if a goal is scored, the Comets stayed on the power play. And Kero stayed busy, 54 seconds later depositing a rebound off a Guillaume Brisebois shot. Michael Carcone added an assist on the goal as well.
“That was the start we wanted,” said Kero after the game. But “a few minor breakdowns” got the team off its game plan, he said. Coupled with Laval’s high level of execution, it was too much to overcome, he said.
“We’ve been working the same group of guys” on the power play, said Comets coach Trent Cull after the game. The team has been dealing with injuries and the promotion of several other players to the parent club, the Vancouver Canucks, leaving the roster without key players. The work resulted in two power-play conversions Wednesday. Overall, he said, “we’re looking for a little bit more.”
Former Comet Alexandre Grenier cut Utica’s lead in half, poking a rebound past Ivan Kulbakov three minutes into the second period. Daniel Audette knotted things up with a power play goal four minutes later. Alexandre Alain gave Laval their first lead of the night 14 seconds later with a shot from the right face-off circle.
MacEwen tied the game at three a little over a minute later. He grabbed a rebound just in front of the goal then shot the puck home as he drifted toward the corner. Juolevi and Dahlen were credited with the assists. It also spelled the end of the night for McNiven, who was replaced by Charlie Lindgren.
Michael Chaput, another former Comet, put Laval back on top eight minutes into the third period, tipping a shot past Kulbakov. Though the Comets killed five of the six power play opportunities for Laval, this goal came one second after one had expired.
“You can’t take penalties in the third period and expect to win,” said Cull.
Kulbakov stopped 18 shots as his record fell to 4-3-1. “He’s giving us a chance to win,” Cull said of Kulbakov’s performance.
The Comets are now 5-7-1, including a home record of 1-6.
“We have to find a way to finish,” said Kero. On Wednesday, the team failed to hold a lead, but typically, he observed, the team at home has been done in by slow starts.
The Comets are back in action Friday as they host the Hartford Wolf Pack on Purple Heart Night. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.