Utica Comets at Rochester Americans game preview

The Utica Comets and Rochester Americans to meet at the Blue Cross Arena.

The Utica Comets will play in their first “revenge” game of the season on Wednesday night when they travel to Rochester to play the Americans.

Revenge in the aspect that it was the Amerks (as the Americans are sometimes called) that ended the Comets AHL record-setting thirteen-game winning streak to start a season on the night before Thanksgiving. Adding insult to injury, it was done before a standing-room-only crowd at Utica’s Adirondack Bank Center, disappointing the nearly 4,000 fans in attendance.

With payback as the backdrop, the two AHL North rivals will meet for the fifth time this season on December 8th. The Comets have won four of these meetings and possess an AHL best 16-1-1-0 record, which of course puts them in first place in the AHL North Division. The Americans are in second place behind Utica with an 11-6-0-0 mark and have won their last three games. There will be a new face and a few familiar faces missing from the game as defenseman Colton White has been assigned to the Comets from the New Jersey Devils while Mark Jankowski, Brett Murray, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen are now with the Buffalo Sabres.

The Utica Comets celebrate scoring a goal against the Rochester Americans. Photo credit: Scott Kinville:

The strength of the Rochester Americans is without a doubt their offense, as their sixty-nine goals scored is the most in the American Hockey League. It’s no wonder considering they have three players in the top twenty of the AHL including Jack Quinn, who is tied for first with eleven goals and thirteen assists, JJ Peterka is fifteenth with eighteen points, and Michael Mersch is sixteenth with seventeen points. Oskari Laaksonen is fifteenth in scoring among AHL defensemen with twelve points, and Rochester also has dangerous rookie forward Peyton Krebs – who was acquired in the Jack Eichel trade earlier this season.

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While they don’t have the top-end firepower that the Americans have, the Utica Comets are still fifth in the AHL on offense with sixty-six goals scored. The Comets have found offensive success by getting contributions from everyone up and down the roster. Leading the team in points scored is center Chase DeLeo, who has fourteen points (two goals and twelve assists) in only ten games played. As far actual goal-scoring goes, the Comets have twelve players with at least four and are led by Alexander Holtz and Joe Gambardella with six (Holtz has played nine games while Gambardella has played fifteen). Reilly Walsh is eighth among scoring by AHL defenseman with thirteen points.

While similar in overall offensive numbers, the Rochester Americans and Utica Comets are polar opposites on the defensive end of things. The Americans are seventeenth in the league having allowed fifty-eight goals so far this season. As previously mentioned, their regular goaltender, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been recalled to the Buffalo Sabres (and getting the start on Tuesday night), leaving backup Michael Houser as most likely starting against Utica. Backing up Houser will be Mat Robson, who was recalled by Rochester on Monday from Cincinnatti of the ECHL.

Defenseman Reilly Walsh excelling for the Utica Comets

To put it simply, the Utica Comets have been stellar on defense this season. They have allowed only thirty-three goals, which is far and away the best in the AHL. Not only do they have the best defensive numbers, but Utica also has the best statistical goaltending tandem in the American Hockey League. Both Nico Daws and Akira Schmid have won eight games while losing only one (Schmid’s loss was in overtime) which is one off of the nine wins that top the league leaderboard. Schmid leads the league in GAA (1.43) and save percentage (.950), while Daws GAA of 2.12 is fifth and his .929 save percentage is fourth.

With the league’s top offense, it is no surprise that the Rochester Americans also have the best power play at 26.5%. The Comets are currently fifteenth in the AHL with a 19.2% conversion rate, although their fifty-two power-play opportunities are by far the least amount of chances with the man advantage in the league.

Currently, the Utica Comets are fourth overall in penalty killing at 87.5%, which is less than one percent off of the league lead. Rochester’s defensive struggles have also spilled over into their penalty kill units, as they are twenty-fourth in the AHL at 78.5%.

Radio coverage for Wednesday night’s game begins at 6:30 with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL), while television coverage will start at 7 o’clock on AHLTV.

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