Utica Comets pushing for more progress
UTICA — The Utica Comets have closed the book on the first month of the American Hockey League season.
The month ended with a 2-3-0-0 mark and the team sitting in seventh place in the seven-team North Division. Notably, the team has played five games – the home-opener contest from Oct. 17 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton isn’t scheduled to be finished until Jan. 24. – while others have played at least seven or eight entering Wednesday.
Sure, two wins in five games isn’t a red-hot start like last season’s AHL record 13 consecutive wins – or the eight consecutive victories Utica had in October 2019 as the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate – the three setbacks have all been close contests.
The Comets has a chance to get back over .500 this week. The team kicked off its first three-games-in-four-days stretch of the season Wednesday with a game against Providence. The team caps the week with home-and-home against North Division rival Rochester. The teams are set to play Friday in Rochester before meeting again Saturday in Utica. Both are 7 p.m. starts.
“We have some areas that we continue to emphasize,” Comets coach Kevin Dineen said this week. “Early in the season, you have practice time. You practice like you play. We don’t play long in practice, but we want really high pace. We want good execution. … Right now, there’s emphasis on getting into the areas that you can get quality chances.”
Here’s three takeaways from October:
Entering Wednesday, the Comets were 4-for-22 on the power-play. That’s 18.2% and 22nd best in the 32-team league.
There’s still tinkering being done, especially with Andreas Johnsson called up to New Jersey following Ondrej Palat’s long-term injury.
During Tuesday’s practice, Mason Geertsen spent time as a net-front presence on one of the units.
“We’ve used a couple different guys in that unit,” Dineen said. “He’s obviously a good option given he’s a big body and he’s not shy going to the net-front.”
The Comets have scored one goal in the three losses. The team totaled eight goals in the two home wins over Cleveland.
Brian Pinho has three goals while Tyce Thompson has two. The rest have come from others in the lineup.
“We’ve had our chances. We need to bear down and finish,” Pinho said.
Akira Schmid and Nico Daws have continued their strong play from last season while also being helped by a solid defensive group. The pair have traded starts through the first month.
Entering Wednesday, Schmid’s 1.68 goals-against average is second-best in the AHL. Daws’ 1.94 GAA was close behind in sixth.
“We feel like goaltending was organizationally the biggest challenge we had last year,” said Dineen, acknowledging New Jersey’s injuries and struggles last season. “You look at it as a real strength organizationally now.”
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