Comets never trail in home win over Senators
UTICA — The Utica Comets came out with offensive pressure at home against the Belleville Senators Wednesday night, and the energy helped the team to a 3-2 win.
The Comets were buzzing throughout the first period, outshooting the Senators 10 to three and notching both goals in the first 20 minutes.
"We're at our best when we play with speed and pace and play hard," noted Comets head coach Kevin Dineen after the win. It was, he said, the team leaders who started that Wednesday. "It was a good team effort tonight."
Nolan Stevens opened the scoring with his first goal of the season with seven seconds left on a Belleville penalty with 5:22 left in the period. He finished the play down close to Belleville goalie Kevin Mandolese, scoring a power-play goal on a rebound off a shot by from Utica captain Ryan Schmelzer. It was Schmelzer's sixth assist of the season, and the secondary assist gave Graeme Clarke five on the season.
The Comets padded the lead with Robbie Russo's first of the season with 47 seconds left in the period. Schmelzer found Russo driving the net. He sent a backhand shot over Mandolese. Alexander Holtz earned his first point with the secondary assist in his first game of the season with the Comets.
Jarid Lukosevicius scored his first goal of the season early in the second period to bring the Senators back to within one goal. Just under three minutes into the middle frame, he got a stick on a long shot in front of Utica goalie Nico Daws that found the back of the net.
The Comets were outshot 13 to eight in the second period. Dineen said the team "weathered the storm" of the Senators' hard forecheck in the period. "I liked the third period," he added. "For the most part we did a lot of good things."
Clarke pushed the lead back to two goals with his second goal of the season, this coming 6:36 into the third. Joe Gambardella carried the puck into the zone then hit Clarke as he skated through the right faceoff circle. He ripped a shot that beat Mandolese. It was Gambardella's first assist of the year and the second for Nikita Okhotiuk.
Cole Cassels got the Senators back within a goal with the Belleville goalie out and an extra attacker on with just over two minutes left in regulation. But when the team pulled the goalie again to try to get the equalizer, the Comets held them off to skate away with the 3-2 win.
Dineen said he was pleased with the effort from the two players who made their Comets debuts in the game. Holtz and defenseman Kevin Bahl both arrived this week after being assigned to Utica by NHL parent club the New Jersey Devils. "They came in, for guys who haven't played a lot of hockey lately, they did a good job of acclimating and jumped right into our group."
Daws turned aside 26 shots to earn his third win of the campaign. His 2.39 goals-against-average is eighth best in the AHL. Mandolese had 24 saves.
Utica improves to 5-6-1-1 and knocks the Senators to 7-8-1-0.
The win gives Utica a chance to do something it hasn't done yet this season, win two games in a row. Dineen said the team has been "stuck in the mud," winning a game then suffering a setback all while "looking to get some traction." One factor that could help reverse the trend of alternating between wins and losses could be two new sources of goal scoring that emerged Wednesday, with Russo and Stevens both getting their first goal of the season. "When you score you get a little bit of confidence, and that's something we're looking to feed off," Dineen said.
Utica plays a pair of road games against the Charlotte Checkers, the third place team in the Atlantic Division, at 4 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday. The Comets are back at home for a 7 p.m. start on Wednesday, Nov. 30, against the Laval Rocket.
Wotherspoon recalled to New Jersey
The New Jersey Devils recalled defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon from the Comets Wednesday.
Wotherspoon has one assist in 13 games with the Comets this season. He last played in the NHL when he made four appearances with Calgary in 2016-17.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here