Comets on the Cusp of Calder Cup Playoffs

Comets on the Cusp

by Mark Caswell, Jr.

Apr 6, 2016

The Utica Comets fired 52 shots on goal, including a franchise-high 21 in the first period, on en route to a 4-2 win over the Binghamton Senators at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday night. With the win, the Comets can clinch their second consecutive playoff berth with a Syracuse Crunch regulation loss to the Albany Devils on Friday night, or a regulation or overtime win verses the St. John’s IceCaps on Saturday night.

Brandon Marino (1-0-1), Kellen Jones (1-0-1), Alex Friesen (1-0-1), and Alexandre Grenier (1-0-1) recorded the Utica goals on the night, while Richard Bachman made 21 saves in net to secure his 16th win of the season. The Comets 21 first period shots on goal tied the all-time franchise mark for shots in a period. That previous mark was hit twice before, once in the third period on Mar. 21, 2014 vs. Adirondack, a 4-3 loss, and again in the third period on Jan. 30, 2015 vs. Toronto in a 3-2 loss.

While the Comets peppered the Senators’ net with 21 shots, the Bachman only had to stave off five enemy shots in the first period. Despite the lop-sided shot totals, the game remained scoreless after the initial 20 minutes.

The team’s appeared to have saved all their goal-scoring efforts for the second period as they combined for five goals.

Marino connected for the first goal of the night midway through the second period. As the Senators were poised for a breakout, Ronalds Kenins stepped up and intercepted the breakout pass. Marino, on the opposite of Kenins, broke hard to the net. Kenins danced around a defender as Marino was cross-checked by a Senators’ defender into their goaltender Matt O’Connor. Kenins cut across the top of the crease and ricocheted a shot off of Marino and in.

2:57 later Kellen Jones extended the Comets lead to 2-0 with a Bobby Orr-esque tally. Michael Zalewski cut across the top of the circles, drew a defender to him, and slipped a pass to Jones as he darted from the near-side corner. As he was being tripped up by O’Connor, Jones managed to wrap the puck around the goaltender with both of his skates above his head.

Three minutes after the Comets grabbed a 2-0 lead, Alex Friesen made it a 3-0 lead after he picked off a Senators pass and slipped a shot between O’Connor’s legs on a breakaway.

Binghamton, more accurately Jason Akeson, struck twice on the power play in the period’s waning minutes to break-up the shutout bid and claw the visiting team to within a goal.

In the third period the Comets slammed the door shut when Alexandre Grenier put the finishing touches on a perfect pass from T.J. Hensick that was threaded through two defenders legs. Taylor Fedun recorded the secondary assist on the power-play goal with 4:48 remaining.

The Comets improved to 36-24-7-4 with the win, and the Senators fell to 27-37-6-1.

The Comets hit the road, well air, for a pair of games against the St. John’s IceCaps on “the rock”. Saturday’s game is scheduled for a 6pm start, and Sunday’s game is a 2:30pm start in the Eastern time zone.

BINGHAMTON SENATORS (27-36-6-1) vs UTICA COMETS (35-24-7-4)
Utica Memorial Auditorium, 7pm
Watch Live: AHL Live | Listen Live: Radio: 94.9 K-ROCK, Desktop or Mobile

Tonight’s Game: The Utica Comets cannot clinch a playoff spot tonight, but they can make major strides to do so when the Binghamton Senators make their third visit to The AUD this season. The Comets magic number sits at just five points but hold key tiebreakers over the last two teams that can catch them, the Syracuse Crunch and Rochester Americans.

The Comets enter tonight’s game sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference’s North Division with 81 points, while the Senators are in last place with 61 points. The Ottawa Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate enters tonight having already been eliminated from playoff competition

Last Game:With a chance to clinch their second consecutive postseason berth, the Comets jumped out to a 2-0. The back-and-forth contest saw three lead changes and two ties, before ultimately the Syracuse Crunch defeated the Comets 7-3 after pulling away in the third period to tie the Galaxy Cup series at 4-4.

T.J. Hensick (0-2-2) and Jon Landry (0-2-2) had multi point games for the Comets, while Joseph LaBate (1-0-1), Carter Bancks (1-0-1), and Alex Friesen (1-0-1) had the Utica goals.

Scouting the Senators: The B-Sens enter tonight’s contest on a six-game skid (0-4-2-0), with their last win coming against the Comets at The AUD on Mar. 20 (3-2 SO win). Since then, the Comets have defeated the Senators’ twice, with both wins coming in Binghamton. Casey Bailey, acquired in a deal with the Toronto Marlies, will be playing in his 11th game against the Comets this season. He leads all B-Sens players with seven points (1-6-7) against Utica. Phil Varone (18-30-48) and Jason Akeson (11-35-46), immediately became the top two point-scorers for the last place club when they were acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. Although goaltender Chris Driedger has played in more games (36), the Comets have seen Matt O’Connor in five of the team’s four games this season. In those games, O’Connor is 1-4-0-0, with a 4.24 goals against average and an .877 save percentage.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: There are several messy ways for the Comets to seal the deal and claim a spot in the post-season tournament, however, the easiest way in is to either collect two regulation or overtime wins against non-Syracuse opponents, OR one regulation win over Syracuse OR one regulation or overtime win, AND one Syracuse regulation loss. On paper the Comets path appears to be easier than the Crunch’s as the Comets remaining opponents (BNG, STJ, SYR) have a combined .450 points percentage, while the Crunch’s opponents (ALB, TOR, UTI, LV) have a .566 points percentage.

Special Teams vs. Binghamton: The Comets being strong when short-handed is well-known. When looking a bit deeper, it is even better against Binghamton. The league’s top-ranked penalty-killing unit has a success rate of 91.3%, and have killed off their last 15 penalties against the Senators. The Comets power play unit has been particularly good against their New York State rival, with a success rate of 22.9%, seven percentage points better than their 15.7% clip on the season.

Not Your Average Joe: Joseph LaBate has been on fire lately, both on the scoresheet and off. Statistically speaking he has collected six of his 18 points on the season, in the last eight games. However, he has been the direct cause of three other goals in the team’s last three games. The fourth-round pick of the Canucks in the 2011 NHL Draft, has found instant power-play chemistry with T.J. Hensick. The duo have teamed up on two goals in the last three games, statistically, and five goals in total.

Next Game: The Comets hit the road, well air, for a pair of games against the St. John’s IceCaps on “the rock”. Saturday’s game is scheduled for a 6pm start, and Sunday’s game is a 2:30pm start in the Eastern time zone.

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