Utica Comets vs Cleveland Monsters game preview

This will be the first time the Utica Comets see their AHL North Division rivals this season.

When the Utica Comets take the ice on Friday night at the Adirondack Bank Center, they’ll be doing so without a key part of their team.

That’s because goaltender Nico Daws was injured after a collision in his crease during the third period of Wednesday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Rochester Americans. Daws was forced to exit the game, and could not put any weight on his right leg as he was leaving the ice. Akira Schmid finished the game in his absence.

There has been no official word on the extent of Daws’s injury, but the Comets recalled a familiar face from the Adirondack Thunder in Marek Mitens on Thursday to presumably back Schmid up on Friday night at least.

So it’s next man up for the Comets, and they don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. The Cleveland Monsters, who also play in the AHL North Division, and are the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, will be their opponent on Friday night. The Monsters are in third place in the North Division with a 10-6-2-3 record good for a winning percentage of .595. They trail the Rochester Americans and the Comets, who are in first place overall with an AHL best 16-1-2-0 record and .895 winning percentage.

On offense, Cleveland is tied with three other teams for fifth overall in the AHL for goals scored with sixty-seven. Individually, defenseman Jake Christiansen leads the team in points with eighteen, and his thirteen assists are tied for the team lead in that category with Tyler Angle. Former Utica Comet Brendan Gaunce is leading the team in goals scored with seven, and his sixteen points are the second-most on the team. Longtime Comets fans will recall Gaunce was on the team when they made their run to the Calder Cup Final in 2015.

Utica Comets lose their second straight overtime game

The Utica Comets enter Friday night’s game with the third most goals scored in the AHL with sixty-nine. For most of the season, Chase DeLeo has been the sole leader in points scored on the team, but a recent surge by defenseman Reilly Walsh now has them both tied for the lead with fifteen points. Leading the team in goals scored are Joe Gambardella and Alexander Holtz with six each – although Gambardella has missed the past three games and Holtz hasn’t scored in the past five. The Comets truly have a “score by committee” offense.

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Only four teams in the American Hockey League have given more goals than the sixty-six the Monsters have allowed. With Daniil Tarasov in Columbus, J.F. Berube is Cleveland’s primary goaltender. In ten games played, Berube has a record of 4-3-3 with a 2.80 GAA and a .912 save percentage. Jet Greaves serves as the second Monsters goaltender while Tarasov is in Columbus.

Conversely, the Utica Comets are the best overall defensive team in the AHL, allowing only thirty-seven goals in nineteen games, with the Comet’s goaltending being a huge factor in their defensive excellence. Akira Schmid and Nico Daws have both been outstanding this season. Schmid has a record of 8-0-2, his 1.60 GAA is second best in the AHL, and his .944 is best in the league. As stated earlier, with Daws being injured, Marek Mitens has been recalled from the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL to back up Schmid. In thirteen games with the Thunder, Mitens has a record of 7-4-1-0 to go with a 3.12 GAA and .902 save percentage.

A look at the Utica Comets overall underlying numbers so far

The Comets and Monsters are not that far apart in power-play efficiency. Utica is nineteenth in the league with an 18.5% conversion rate, while Cleveland sits at twenty-fifth with a 16.5% success rate. The Monsters have been on the power play much more than the Comets this season, however. They have had eighty-five opportunities while Utica has had only fifty-four – which is the least amount of power-play chances in the AHL so far this season.

The Utica Comets have the fifth-best penalty-killing units in the league, killing 84.8% of the power plays they face. Cleveland is thirteenth, having killed 82.4% of the penalties they have taken. The eighty-five power-play opportunities the Monsters have given up is the fourth most in the American Hockey League so far, while the Comets have given up sixty-six. Only five teams have given up fewer power play opportunities than Utica has.

The puck drops for Friday night’s game at the Adirondack Bank Center at 7:00 pm. Radio coverage begins at 6:30 with the Comets pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL). The television broadcast begins at 7:00 pm on WPNY and AHLTV.

Episode #54 features a very entertaining interview with Utica College Pioneers Head Coach Gary Heenan. The coach talks about the Pioneers season so far, the Thanksgiving Showcase, the Teddy Bear Toss, the season ahead, his famous relative, and more. After the interview, the guys chat about the Utica Comets, news from around the NHL, and more! You can subscribe to the show at “Marty’s Illegal Stick Hockey Podcast” on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all other major podcast platforms.

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