Comets Struggles Against the Devils Continue

Comets Struggles Against the Devils Continue

by Mark Caswell, Jr.

Oct 22, 2016

Despite climbing out of a 2-0 hole, the Utica Comets lost by the score of 3-2 to the Albany Devils at the Times Union Center on Saturday night. The Comets record falls to 1-3-0-0, while the Devils improved to a perfect 4-0-0-0.

Off-season free agent signings Michael Chaput (1-0-1) and Derek Hulak (1-0-1) each netted their first goals as a member of the Comets, while David Shields (0-1-1), Marco Roy (0-1-1), Michael Zalewski (0-1-1), and Carter Bancks (0-1-1) all recorded an assist. Goaltender Thatcher Demko, in his second professional start, made 24 saves in the loss.

The lone goal of the first period came with 2:54 left to play in the period and gave the home team a 1-0 lead. With Andrey Pedan in the penalty box for the Comets, Reece Scarlett snaked a shot through heavy slot traffic for his first tally of the season.

The Devils doubled down on their lead in the second period’s opening minutes when John Quenneville’s power-play goal slipped between Demko’s glove and the crossbar.

Midway through the second period Comets forward Joseph LaBate received a match penalty for checking to the head. A match penalty carries a mandatory suspension pending completion of a review by the American Hockey League.

During the Comets penalty-kill of the LaBate match penalty, Carter Bancks and Michael Chaput broke into the Devils zone on a two-on-one break. Bancks drew the defender to him, and sprung Chaput on a breakaway after he chipped the puck through the defender. Chaput quickly deked the goaltender and back-handed the puck up-and-over Wedgeweood’s outstretched leg pad for his first goal as a member of the Comets. The short-handed goal was the Comets first such goal of the season, after they led the league with 17 short-handed goals during the 2015-16 season.

A Devils miscue in their defensive zone early in the third period afforded the Comets the opportunity they needed to knot the game at 2-2. Michael Zalewski scooped up the fumbled puck, passed it to Marco Roy, who quickly found Derek Hulak alone on the doorstep. Hulak’s shot found its way through Wedgewood and into the net for his first goal with the Comets.

The Devils claimed their second lead of the night when Jan Mandat found his first career AHL goal with 10:23 to play in the third.

The Comets successfully killed off five of the Devils seven power-play opportunities, while the power play unit was 0-for-5 on the night.

The Comets wrapped up the season-opening four-game road trip with a 1-3-0-0 record. The club’s home opener is Wednesday night against the Binghamton Senators. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.

UTICA COMETS (1-2-0-0) @ ALBANY DEVILS (3-0-0-0)
Times Union Center, 5 p.m.
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Tonight’s Game: The Comets season-opening four-game road trip concludes tonight at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. The Comets enter the game in search of their first regulation win against the Albany Devils.

Last Game: The Comets drew first blood in the 2016-17 Galaxy Cup series, with a 5-4 victory over the Syracuse Crunch at the OnCenter War Memorial Arena Friday night. The win was the Comets first of the season and improves the team’s record to 1-2-0-0 overall.

Defenseman Chad Billins (1-2-3) paced the Comets with a three-point night, while Jayson Megna (1-1-2), Michael Chaput (0-2-2), and Alexandre Grenier (1-1-2) all recorded multi-point efforts. Goaltender Richard Bachman recorded his 102nd career AHL victory with a 19-save effort.

Head-to-Head: Last year the Comets finally solved the riddle that haunted them in the years prior and recorded a win against the Albany Devils. However, including the playoffs, the Comets limped to a 3-7-2-0 record a year ago. In the all-time series, the Comets own a 2-10-2-0 record good for six points, compared to the Devils' 26 points collected with a 12-0-2-0 record.

Scouting the Devils: The last time we saw the Albany Devils, the teams were exchanging handshakes at center ice at The AUD after the Comets were eliminated in four games. After that, the Devils lost a gritty seven-game series to the Toronto Marlies in the very next round. On paper, the off season was not very kind to the Devils as they saw six of their top eight point producers, including their top four, leave in free agency. Despite the seemingly big blows to their roster, reigning AHL Coach of the Year, Rick Kowalsky, has guided the team to a perfect 3-0 record to start the season with a pair of wins over the Providence Bruins (3-1) and the St. John’s IceCaps (5-2) last weekend, and a 3-2 shootout win over the Binghamton Senators last night. Goaltender Scott Wedgewood has started in net in two of the team's three games, and has stopped 54 of the 57 shots he faced for a 1.50 GAA and a .944 save percentage.

New Guy: Newcomer Michael Chaput has recorded an assist in every game thus far, including a helper on five of the team’s nine tallies this season. Highlighted by his two assist games on Sunday and last night, Chaput’s positive impact on the power play has been a welcomed addition to the Comets. Chaput, a third round draft pick of the Flyers in the 2010 NHL Draft, won a Calder Cup championship last season with the Lake Erie Monsters. He finished second on the Monsters last season with 45 points..

Power Play Surge: With two goals on two attempts last night, the Comets power play currently ranks as the second best in the league with a 33.3% conversion rate (5 for 15).

Debut on Tap: After missing last weekend’s games, Derek Hulak participated in practice this week without a non-contact jersey, suggesting that he will play at some point this weekend. Hulak followed up an impressive 21 goal rookie campaign during the 2014-15 season, with a 17 goal season last year. All 17 of the tallies last year came at even strength.

Next Game: The Comets finally return home for a pair of home games at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Puck drop on the 2016-17 home opener is scheduled for 7 p.m on Wednesday.

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