Higgins Hat Tricks Powers Comets
by Mark Caswell, Jr.Mar 13, 2016
Chris Higgins first American Hockey League hat trick powered the Utica Comets to a 5-3 win over the Providence Bruins Sunday afternoon at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The Comets regulation win snapped the Bruins 23-game point streak on home ice just two games shy of the American Hockey League’s record.
Chris Higgins (3-0-3), Taylor Fedun (0-2-2), T.J. Hensick (0-2-2), and Alexandre Grenier (1-1-2) collected multi-point nights, while Kellen Jones (1-0-1) picked up the game-winning goal with his first goal with the Comets. Richard Bachman made 32 saves for his 13th win of the season. The Comets special teams were a factor in this game as the power-play converted twice on four opportunities against the third best penalty-killing team in the league. The Comets penalty-killing unit was a perfect 2-for-2 against the league’s top ranked power play unit.
Just like yesterday's game in Albany, the due of Chris Higgins and Alexandre Grenier staked the Comets to 1-0 lead. After he received a pass from Ehrhardt, Grenier appeared to be headed around the back of the net. Before he entered the area of the ice known as "Gretzky's Office", Grenier slid a behind-the-back, backhand pass to the slot to Chris Higgins, who one-timed the shot past the Bruins' goaltender for his third goal in as many games.
The Comets doubled down on their lead when they converted on their first power-play attempt of the game in the opening period's waning minutes. With the power play unit set-up in the Bruins' zone, Higgins passed the puck across the blue line to defenseman Taylor Fedun. From there Fedun faked a shot, and instead connected on a pass with Hensick, who was stationed in the far corner. Without missing a beat, Hensick set-up Higgins for a one-time blast from the top of the circle for Higgins' second goal of the game, and eighth as a Comet.
The Comets appeared to be heading to the break with a 2-0 lead, however, a familiar face had other plans. Former Comets forward, Brandon DeFazio, swept a loose puck past Richard Bachman for his 14th goal of the season with 1.2 seconds remaining in the period.
The Comets power play unit rinsed, washed, and then repeated their efforts from their first power play attempt. The same three players, in the same exact order, factored into the Comets second power-play goal of the evening. After Fedun found Hensick alone on the half wall, Hensick quickly slid the puck to Higgins in the slot for the one-timer goal to complete the Higgins Hat Trick.
As the second period came to a close the Bruins climbed back to within one once again when Frank Vatrano scored his league-leading 31st goal of the season with a wrist shot from just above the face-off dot to Bachman’s right.
After trailing since the 16 minute mark of the first period, the Bruins finally found the equalizer 5:52 into the third period. Alexander Khokhlachev took a pass from Vatrano and squeaked a shot through the legs of Bachman to tie the game at 3-3.
The Comets once again took the lead, this time for good, a little over halfway through the final period. An incredible individual effort from newcomer, Kellen Jones, ended with the puck sitting nicely in the back of the Bruins net. After Jones gained the Bruins zone, he cut across the crease and wristed a shot to the far side of the net as Jeremy Smith defended the short side.
Grenier scored his team-leading fourth empty-net goal of the season to seal the deal with 1:08 left.
With the win the Comets record improved to 31-21-5-3.
The Comets march to the playoffs takes a few days off before kicking back into high gear on Friday night at The AUD. The St. John’s IceCaps and NHL All-Star Game MVP, John Scott, kick off the Comets season-high five game home stand when they make their final trip to the Mohawk Valley for a 7pm puck drop.
Tonight’s Game: In their first trip to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center to take on the Providence Bruins, the Comets look to avoid getting swept in their third consecutive three-in-three weekend. Puck drop is scheduled for 3:05pm.
The Comets are currently sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference’s North Division with 68 points, while the Bruins, also in third place in the Atlantic Division, have collected 72 points.
Last Game:The Utica Comets rolled into Saturday night’s game versus the Albany Devils at the Times Union Center with an all-time record of 72-0-4-0 when leading after two periods. They left with 72-1-4-0 record in such games when the Albany Devils scored three times in the third period to erase a 2-1 deficit entering the third period.
Chris Higgins (1-0-1), Taylor Fedun (1-0-1), and Darren Archibald (1-0-1) handled the scoring for the Comets, while Joe Cannata made 27 saves in the loss. The Comets penalty-killing unit was a perfect 3-for-3, including killing off a 5-on-3 power play in the first period.
Scouting the Bruins: With at least a point in 23 straight home games, the Providence Bruins are just two games shy of tying the AHL’s record for consecutive home games without a regulation loss. While Seth Griffith (20-43-63) and Alexander Khokhlachev (17-32-49) are the team leaders in points, it is undrafted rookie Frank Vatrano (30-13-43) that requires the closest look. A point-per-game player is regarded as an elite player. Vatrano has taken that designation to a new level and is a GOAL-per-game player with 30 goals in 30 games, and is the American Hockey League’s only 30 goal scorer so far this season. Former Comets fan favorite, Brandon DeFazio (13-17-30), is enjoying a successful season with 30 points, good for fifth on the team. Despite appearing in 27 games, second-most on the team, we will not see a Subban Brothers match-up this time as goaltender Malcolm Subban has been shutdown for the season after suffering a freak throat injury a few weeks back. This afternoon’s expected starter in net, Jeremy Smith, has led the Bruins to a 10-16-4 record, a 2.72 goals against average, and a .916 save percentage in 31 games this season.
Lucky Devil: The Albany Devils did something no other team has ever done to the Comets last night. They beat Utica in regulation when Utica led after two periods. Entering last night’s contest, the Comets were a perfect 21-0-0-0 this season, and 72-0-4-0 all-time.
Welcome Aboard: T.J. Hensick made his Comets debut on Friday and then made his first mark last night. Henisck’s secondary assist on the game’s first goal stands as his first point while donning the Comets blue and green. The four-time American Hockey League All-Star has appeared in 46 games for the AHL Charlotte Checkers this season, where he ranked tied for sixth on the team in scoring with 25 points (7-18-25). The 30-year old center was named to the 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012 AHL All-Star teams. Hensick has amassed 456 points (137-319-456) in 484 AHL games including a 60 point campaign (19-41-60) for the Hamilton Bulldogs last year. In 112 NHL regular season games, split between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, Hensick has registered 38 points (12-26-38) and 18 penalty minutes..
Next Game: The Comets march to the playoffs takes a few days off before kicking back into high gear on Friday night at The AUD. The St. John’s IceCaps and NHL All-Star Game MVP, John Scott, make their final trip to the Mohawk Valley for a 7pm puck drop.