Utica vs. Toronto: A Series Breakdown
By Jason ShayaApr 25, 2023
The Comets defeated the Laval Rocket in two games to skate away with a series victory in the best-of-three matchup last weekend. Taking on a team in Laval that won four straight games heading into the post-season and eight of their last ten, the Comets stopped all the momentum the Rocket built heading into the playoffs. Despite needing a late goal to tie game two and then an overtime winner to vanquish Laval, Utica had almost total control of the series from game one on the road. Nico Daws was excellent in goal while Reilly Walsh’s play with the puck was outstanding. When the smoke cleared, Sam Laberge’s deflection of the Simon Nemec point shot in overtime will be remembered as one of the greatest Comets’ goals in the franchise’s ten-year history. The series ended in two games and the Comets made a statement en route to Toronto.
The Marlies entered the post-season sailing in as the top team of the North Division; a title they held for weeks leading to the playoffs. As the NHL trade deadline approached, the Maple Leafs made deals that altered the Marlies roster moving several key players that helped the Marlies become a dominant team in the league. As things began to wind down, and in comparison to the Rocket, the Marlies went 1-6-2-1 down the stretch. Nevertheless, their last game was April 16th, a game they won by scoring seven goals against the Belleville Senators. That game was their first win in two weeks, but they ended the regular season on a strong note.
Toronto had the second-best power-play in the AHL this season operating at 23.6%. while their penalty kill was ranked 13th at 81.5%. The Comets finished 31st on the man-advantage at 15.8% while their penalty kill was 27th at 77.4%. While Utica didn’t allow a power-play goal in the two games against Laval, they also didn’t score on the power-play in the four opportunities they received.
Goals For/Goals Against:
The Marlies scored 229 goals this season ranking them 12th in the league giving them an average of 3.18 goals scored per-game. They allowed 225 goals against per-game which ranked them 18th at 3.12 per game. While Utica scored 215 goals per game ranking them 22nd in the league for an average of 2.98, they allowed 222 goals averaging 3.08 goals against per game.
The Comets were led by Graeme Clarke who scored the most goals on the team at 25 with a team leading 33 assists for 58 points on the season in 68 games. Second in scoring was defenseman Reilly Walsh, who scored nine goals and added 32 assists for 41 points. Walsh played in all but one game this season. Next in scoring was Nolan Foote who put up 20 goals in 55 games played including 17 assists for 37 points. Thus far in the playoffs, the captain Ryan Schmelzer and Walsh both have two goals in two games played with Sam Laberge putting up one goal and one assist while Simon Nemec has two assists as well.
The Marlies were led in scoring by Logan Shaw who topped out at 21 goals in 69 games with 48 assists. Next in scoring was Alex Steeves scoring 19 goal and 32 assists for 51 points in 65 games. Leading their defensemen in points was Noel Hoefenmayer with 11 goals and 27 assists for 38 points in 65 games played. The Marlies have yet to play a playoff game being granted a bye in the initial round.
Nico Daws has carried the workload for the Comets all season playing 33 games with a 2.70 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. He has two games played in the playoffs stopping a total of 58 shots out of 59 taken against Laval giving him a 0.5 goals against average with a .983 save percentage.
For the Marlies, both Keith Petruzzelli and Dennis Hildeby are the goalie tandem. During the season, Petruzzelli led in games played keeping a 2.90 goals against average with a .909 save percentage. Neither goalie has played in the AHL post-season in their career.
What to Watch:
With the Comets handling the road atmosphere of the Place Bell in the opening series against Laval with total equanimity, the team shouldn’t be rattled by heading into the first two games at the Coca-Cola Coliseum on Thursday and Saturday. It’s easy to expect a rusty Marlies team having not played a game since April 16th but they are a powerful offensive team with many weapons up front. They also had one of the very best power-plays in the league so the Comets would do well for themselves in staying out of the penalty box. The season series went for the Marlies but that won’t matter considering the Marlies and Comets look much different now compared to what the rosters looked like when they first met in the first month of the regular season. I expect a hard-fought series with a big momentum swing coming for whomever skates away with a win in game one.
More than anything, we anticipate a packed house at the Adirondack Bank Center next week. Walsh and Laberge mentioned Friday night that the crowd was deafening, and gave them goose bumps. On May 3rd when the Comets return, they will be greeted by thousands in white. Together we can help propel this team to a division final and beyond.