Consistency remains focus for Utica Comets
UTICA — As the Utica Comets get set to enter the third month of the American Hockey League regular season, the team is pushing to continue its recent string of results.
Entering Wednesday’s home game against North Division foe Laval, Utica put together its first multi-game point-streak of the season with a win over Belleville and an overtime loss and overtime win over Charlotte last week.
Those results gave the Comets five of a possible six points, moving them slightly up the seven-team division. Utica’s 15 points entering Wednesday matched Laval, though the Comets have completed five fewer games than Laval. Because each of the 32 AHL teams is set to play 72 games this season, position in the standings will ultimately be determined by points earned.
After an uneven start compared to last season’s wildly successful opening two months when the Comets lost once in the first 15 games, the team is finding positives.
“We’ve been searching to get a little ground and traction,” Comets coach Kevin Dineen said.
“It was nice to sit out on a good road trip (with a few days between games). You build on it. You get to enjoy it for a couple days. We already have our focus ahead to two big home games.”
Besides Wednesday’s game against Laval, the Comets are also scheduled to get a visit from division-leading Toronto at 7 p.m. Friday. Utica is then set to head to Belleville for a 7 p.m. start Saturday as the team reaches the first-quarter mark of the season.
“They’ve all been competitive games (against the Canadian teams),” Dineen said. “It is typical North Division type of play. It is a lot of teams battling it out. … I just look at it as a good test (this week).”
Utica’s schedule begins to ramp in December. After 15 completed games over the first two months – the suspended game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton from October is scheduled to be completed in January – Utica is set to play 12 times in December.
“It is a good group of guys and it is a lot of fun,” said forward Nolan Stevens, echoing what other players have said about the team’s camaraderie. “I’m looking forward to getting the season going with these guys.”
The roster has featured its share of change, most notably with the recent departures of forward Alex Holtz, defenseman Kevin Bahl and goaltender Nico Daws, who each contributed to the recent solid results. They’re each with the parent New Jersey Devils. It is possible other moves could follow with forward Nathan Bastian injured and defenseman John Marino listed as “day-to-day” by the NHL team Wednesday.
Dineen noted this week that the Comets have good depth to navigate the usual changes to the roster. The team is finding chemistry among its lines and units, he said.
“I think we’re just looking for more consistency game-to-game, period-to-period and shift-to-shift,” Dineen said. “I think that just makes life easier when everybody is playing their role, we’re rolling four lines and there’s that level of consistency and identity of what Comet hockey is.”
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