A shorthanded Utica Comets team nearly pulled off a last-minute comeback, but ultimately lost 3-2 in the shootout against the Cleveland Monsters.

by Scott Kinville, host of the Martys Illegal Stick podcast

There wasn’t a lot that was normal for the Utica Comets on Monday night. Their game against the Cleveland Monsters was their first and only Monday night game of the regular season (they were supposed to play a Monday night game on December 27th against Rochester, but that game was postponed). They were also missing key contributors Chase DeLeo and Nolan Foote, who have missed their last four and three games in a row respectively with injuries.

Last but not least, the Comets said goodbye to Nate Schnarr, who was traded to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday afternoon (for the details of the deal, click here: Nate Schnarr traded by the New Jersey Devils). With the timing of the trade, there was no time to recall a replacement from Adirondack, so the Comets played the game with just three centers.

With all of this as the backdrop, the first place in the Eastern Conference Comets (35-13-6-1, 77 points, 0.700 points percentage) met the last place in the North Division Monsters (22-24-8-4, 56 points, 0.483 points percentage) at the Adirondack Bank Center in the AHL’s lone game on Monday night. Neither team would score in the opening period, although the Comets did outshoot the Monsters by a 10-5 count. Utica got a major scare in the first period, however, when captain Ryan Schmelzer had to leave the game after getting hit in the face by a puck. What was already a precarious forward situation for the Comets became even worse, as, after the Schmelzer injury, the team was down to two natural centers.

It only took the Monsters thirty-eight seconds after the start of the second period to get on the scoreboard. Comets goaltender Mareks Mitens made the save off a shot from former Comet Cole Cassels, but Tristan Mullin was there to put the rebound in the net to give the Monsters a 1-0 lead. Cleveland put tremendous pressure on Utica for the entire period, as they had outshot the Comets 14-1 through the first half of the second period and a total of 19-5 for the period. Cleveland’s efforts were rewarded with another goal with just under one minute remaining in the second when Zach Jordan redirected a Scott Harrington shot from the point past Mitens to give the Monsters a 2-0 lead heading into the second intermission.

Things get a little heated in the Utica Comets crease on Monday night. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

The Comets had more offensive jump in the third period, but Cleveland goaltender Jet Greaves was up to the task for the first nineteen minutes of the period. With Mitens on the bench for the extra attacker, the Comets finally broke through with forty-nine seconds left when Frederik Gauthier put a loose puck in the crease past Greaves to make the score 2-1. Mitens stayed on the bench for the center ice faceoff, and with the Comets pressing, they scored again with just twenty-four seconds remaining when AJ Greer tipped a Robbie Russo slapshot into the Cleveland net to tie the score and send the game to overtime.

The overtime period was wide open with thirteen total shots taken by the two teams (seven for the Comets, six for the Monsters), but both Greaves and Mitens were outstanding. With neither team scoring in the extra frame, the game went to the shootout where the only goal was scored by Cleveland’s Robbie Payne to send the Monsters home with a 3-2 victory.

Notes: Cleveland outshot Utica 38-36…There were no penalties called in the game. Since Cleveland did not have a power play, it marks the seventh consecutive game the Comets did not give up a power-play goal…Utica had four players with one point each, Cleveland had five players with one point each…This is the sixth consecutive game Utica has played with the final score being 3-2 (thank you to Nick Ahles for pointing this out in the Comets Postgame Show on 94.9 K-Rock)…

Cleveland plays again on Wednesday night at Syracuse…Utica plays again on Wednesday night as well, at home against Bridgeport.