Photo credit: Scott Kinville/315 Hockey.

By Scott Kinville/315 Hockey.

The Utica Comets faced off against North Division rivals the Cleveland Monsters on Friday night at the Adirondack Bank Center, looking for their first win of the season. A complete sixty-minute effort by the team and some timely saves from goaltender Akira Schmid got them that victory as they defeated the Monsters by a score of 3-2.

The Comets welcomed forward Tyce Thompson back after he was assigned to Utica by the New Jersey Devils. He drew into tonight’s lineup, centering the second line with Graeme Clarke and Andreas Johnsson (who was also recently reassigned to Utica by the Devils) on the wings. The trio would be a force to reckon with, as the Monsters would find out.

Utica Comets vs Cleveland Monsters Game Preview 10-21-2022

It took the Comets nearly five minutes to get their first shot on goal in the game, but after the sluggish start, they turned the momentum their way. Utica would get the game’s first power play at the 9:11 mark when Jake Gaudet took a minor boarding penalty and it would cost his team. With Gaudet watching from the penalty box, Graeme Clarke sent the puck toward the Cleveland goal from the right circle, where Andreas Johnsson redirected it past Monsters goaltender Jet Greaves and in to give Utica a 1-0 lead. The goal was Johnsson’s first as a Utica Comet.

The lead was shortlived, however, as less than two minutes later, the Monsters struck right back. Defenseman David Jiricek (a 2022 first-round draft pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets) sent a stretch pass through the neutral zone and onto the stick of the red-hot Kirill Marchenko. Marchenko drove into the Comet’s zone and lifted a backhand shot over the shoulder of Utica goaltender Akira Schmid to score his fourth goal of the season and tie the game at one. Cleveland added to their lead four minutes later while on the power play when Brendan Gaunce (a name familiar to Comets fans) blasted a one-timer off a feed from Emil Bemstrom past Schmid to give the Monsters a 2-1 lead they would take into the second intermission.

It took the Comets only one minute and thirty-seven seconds after the start of the second period to tie the game. Tyce Thompson sent a pass to Graeme Clark in the slot from the left side boards, and Clarke did the rest – deking Greaves in front of his crease and sliding the puck past the Cleavland netminder and in. Seven minutes later, it was Thompson’s turn to light the lamp, and his new linemates were involved yet again. Johnsson slid a pass from the high slot to the right circle in the Cleveland zone, where Thompson pounced on it and snapped a laser beam of a shot into the top of the Monster’s net to give the home team their first lead of the night.

Trailing by a score of 3-2 entering the third period, the Monsters pressed early on for the tying goal, but Schmid and the Utica defense were able to keep them at bay. For his part, Greaves also made some big glove saves to thwart the Comet’s attack as well. Neither goalie would yield any goals in the third period, and the Comets skated away with a 3-2 victory giving them their first win of the 2022-23 season. They play again on Saturday night in Providence against the Bruins with the puck drop at 7:05 pm EDT.

Three Observations From the Game

The Comets are getting scoring from their forward’s group.

The Utica Comets entered this season with their top four scorers (all forwards) gone from the team – prompting concerns the offense would suffer. So far, the forwards are holding their own, particularly in the top six.

Through the first game and a half, it was the top line of Nolan Foote, Brian Pinho, and Zach Senyshyn that was the most noticeable. Tonight, the newly formed second line of the aforementioned Graeme Clarke, Tyce Thompson, and Andreas Johnsson was dynamite – with Thompson recording a goal and assist and Johnsson and Clarke leading all scorers with a goal and two assists each. Clarke also took six shots in the contest.

Yes, it’s very early, and things can quickly change in the AHL, but if these two lines, in particular, stay together and perform as they have, those concerns about the Comet’s offense could wind up being exaggerated.

The power play is working.

The stat sheet says overall this season, the Utica Comets’ power play is operating at a 20% efficiency rate (2/10), which actually ranks them at a pedestrian eighteenth overall in the AHL. It is important to note however, they have scored a power-play goal in each of their first two full games (they were 0/2 at the time their game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was suspended). Consistency equals efficiency, so if the Comets can continue to take advantage of their power play opportunities, it will only benefit the “offense by committee” approach many expect the team will use this season.

Mason Geersten continues to be a wrecking ball.

In my last three observations piece, I mentioned Geersten’s physicality and how he threw five hits in one shift alone. As expected, he was a physical presence again tonight. In one play, he took out two Monsters at the same time! Soon enough, someone should be able to put together a “Mason Geersten’s greatest hits” video.