The AHL North rivals meet for the second time this season.
Home sweet home. The Utica Comets return to the Adirondack Bank Center on Wednesday night to face the Belleville Senators after a two-game sweep of the Checkers in Charlotte. The Comets enter the game with the best record in the American Hockey League at 15-1-0-0. Belleville is fifth in the AHL North with a mark of 9-8-0-0.
Although they are in fifth place, the Senators enter Wednesday night’s game riding a four-game winning streak. On offense, they are led by left-wing Jake Lucchini, who is tied for sixth in the AHL scoring race with eighteen points. Lucchini’s nine goals also lead the Senators, while Egor Sokolov and Pontus Aberg are second and third on the team in scoring with thirteen and eleven points respectively. As a team, the Belleville Senators have the seventh-best offense in the American Hockey League.
In the Belleville net, it’s almost an even split between Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese. In nine games played, Sogaard is carrying a 6-3-0 record with a GAA of 2.70 and a .913 save percentage. Sogaard’s six wins are tied for eleventh most amongst AHL goaltenders, while his save percentage is tied for seventeenth best.
Mandolese has played in eight games this season for Belleville and has a 3-4-0-1 record to go with a 3.25 GAA and .898 save percentage. Mandolese took the loss for Belleville in the first meeting with Utica, giving up three goals.
Note: After this article was published it was announced that Ottawa Goaltender (and former two-time Stanley Cup champion) Matt Murray had cleared waivers and would be reassigned to Belleville. In turn, Kevin Mandolese was assigned to the Atlanta Gladiators of the ECHL.
For the Utica Comets, it appears the third-best offense in the AHL will get even stronger. On Tuesday afternoon, the New Jersey Devils announced they had reassigned Chase DeLeo back to the Comets. Despite playing in only eight games, DeLeo’s fourteen points lead the Comets in scoring. Also reassigned to Utica in the past week were Alexander Holtz and Fabian Zetterlund, and both have made an impact in their returns. Zetterlund joined the team last Saturday in Charlotte and scored the only goal in the game that night, while Holtz has had at least one point in all three games he has played since returning to Utica. Holtz is also tied for the team lead in goals scored with six in only seven games played (he is tied with Joe Gambardella).
If the offense has been great for the Utica Comets, the goaltending has been even better. Akira Schmid and Nico Daws have established themselves as the top goaltending duo in the American Hockey League. Schmid is still undefeated with a 7-0-0-0 record and his 1.42 GAA and .951 save percentage are the best in the AHL. Daws has only one loss in nine games played, while his 2.12 GAA and .929 save percentage are the third-best in the AHL. The tandem has only given up twenty-nine goals in sixteen games this season.
The Comets and Senators are nearly mirror images of each other in special teams play so far this season. On the power play, Belleville is ranked fifteenth in the AHL with a 19.4% conversion rate, while the Comets are right behind them at 19.1%. On the penalty kill, the Senators are ranked fourth-best in the league at 85.9% and once again the Comets are directly behind them at 85.7%. The Comets have had the least amount of opportunities on the power play this season in the AHL with forty-seven, while only three teams have been shorthanded less than Utica. For an analytical look at the teams of the American Hockey League, go to http://bit.ly/datadumpandchase.
The Comets defeated the Senators in Belleville on November 14th in their only meeting of the season so far. The two teams will play each other a total of six times during the regular season. Radio coverage for Wednesday night’s game begins at 6:30 with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL), and the television broadcast begins at 7:00 on WPNY and AHLTV.