Comets drop third straight to Syracuse
There’s one team that has been a pest for the Utica Comets this season.
Unfortunately for Utica, it is the Syracuse Crunch.
The Crunch scored three consecutive goals – including two 16 seconds apart in the third period – and goalie Hugo Alnefelt made 33 saves while the Comets had a tough afternoon on special teams as Syracuse scored a 5-1 victory during a rare Monday matinee in the first of three consecutive American Hockey League meetings between the North Division rivals.
The Comets dropped to 0-3-0-0 against the Crunch this season having given up four or more goals. Utica has been outscored 18-5 against high-scoring Syracuse.
That’s tough news for the Comets, who are also scheduled to play Syracuse at 7 p.m. Friday in Utica. The teams are also set to meet at the same time Saturday in Syracuse.
The teams are scheduled to meet 14 total times this season, including twice in the final three regular-season games when teams in the North could be jockeying for position.
The Comets’ fortunes are notably different against their closest geographical rival compared to the team’s first season as the New Jersey Devils’ AHL affiliate when they finished 11-1-2-0 against the Tampa Bay Lightning’s affiliate.
Monday’s meeting was far less physical than the previous recent games between the Thruway rivals as Utica finished with 10 penalty minutes. The team had 48 and 58 in the other meetings — a formula that coach Kevin Dineen said didn’t work against Syracuse.
Utica (18-10-5-1 overall) remains in second place in the seven-team North with 44 points. Utica is ahead of third-place Rochester (40 points) and fourth-place Syracuse (16-13-2-3, 37 points), which has won three consecutive games. Both Rochester and Syracuse have completed at least two fewer games than Utica.
Combined with Friday’s setback at Providence, Utica has dropped two of its last three in regulation. However, Utica is 11-2-2-0 in the last 15 games, which has helped them catapult up the standings.
The Comets’ recent struggles on the power play contributed in Monday’s setback as they finished 0-for-6. The team is 1-for-29 on the power play since Dec. 30.
Nico Daws, a Comets’ All-Star representative, finished with 26 saves. He has lost back-to-back games since winning five straight from Dec. 17 to Jan. 8.
After Utica allowed a shorthanded goal 3:18 into the game and fell behind 2-0 late in the opening period – the seventh consecutive goal scored by Syracuse dating back to the last meeting Dec. 10 – Utica got its lone goal on a nice passing play between linemates Nolan Stevens, Joe Gambardella and Graeme Clarke to get within 2-1. It was Stevens’ career-best 11th of the season and the second time he’s reached 25 or more points in his five pro seasons.
However, Syracuse captain Gabriel Dumont scored on a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Andreas Johnsson – the Crunch finished 1-for-4 on the power play – in the second period.
Utica had its share of chances in the third, including when a puck fluttered through the crease and Gambardella wasn’t able to push it in.
On the Comets’ sixth power play of the game, Jack Dugan had two chances from the left circle stopped by Alnefelt. Defenseman Reilly Walsh also had a short breakaway stopped.
Gage Goncalves scored his second of the game on an empty-netter with 53 seconds to go. Gabriel Fortier added his second of the game less than 20 seconds later in front.
Geertsen gets two
Utica was coming off a dominant 5-1 victory over Bridgeport on Saturday in the second and final meeting between the Eastern Conference teams.
Mason Geertsen – known more for his physical game – scored twice about eight minutes apart in the opening period. It was his second and third goal of the season, matching his career-best.
Johnsson, Zach Senyshyn (six goals) and defenseman Simon Nemec (four goals) also scored as Utica was in control throughout.
Akira Schmid earned his third consecutive win, stopping 33 shots. It was his 29th career win with Utica. He’s trying to become the fifth Comets’ goaltender to win 30 games.
Clarke: 14 goals-17 assists-31 points
Nolan Foote (on recall): 13-6-19
Daws (20 appearances): 2.81 GAA/.902 SV%/10-8-1
Schmid (11 appearances) 2.35/.912/7-1-3
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