Utica Comets vs Wilkes-Barre Scranton Game Preview and Roster Notes

The Utica Comets will face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the first time this season and a couple of familiar faces return.

The Utica Comets have hit a bit of a rough patch lately, both in the won/lost column and with roster shakeups. They have lost two games in a row, giving up an uncharacteristic six goals in each game. Due to injuries and illnesses throughout the New Jersey Devils organization, the Comets roster has also been something of a revolving door over the past few weeks as well.

That trend continued on Friday morning when per AHL Transactions, forwards Patrick Grasso and Jordan Kaplan were being returned to the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL by the Comets, and that forward AJ Greer and defenseman Colton White were being recalled to the Devils.

With coach Kevin Dineen reporting Comets forward Graeme Clarke would miss at least one month after taking a puck to the hand on December 31st against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (it looked bad, as he immediately flung his glove off after it happened). On the surface, one could wonder if the Comets would have enough players to play their scheduled games this weekend.

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There is, however, good news for Utica as well. Dineen also stated that both forward Joe Gambardella and defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon should be back in the lineup this week. AHL Transactions also reports that forward Alexander Holtz and defenseman Kevin Bahl were returned to the Comets by the Devils. The Comets appear to be getting closer to the lineup that dominated the AHL during the first part of the season.

With all of this as the backdrop, the Comets will face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the first time this season at the Adirondack Bank Center. Despite the recent string of losses, Utica still has the best winning percentage in the AHL at .848 on the strength of an 18-2-3-0 record. Wilkes-Barre Scranton is in seventh place in the Atlantic Division with a 9-12-1-2 mark.

As a team, the Comets are eleventh in the American Hockey League with eighty-four goals in twenty-three games. Center Chase DeLeo leads the team in scoring with twenty points (six goals and fourteen assists). DeLeo is followed closely by defenseman Reilly Walsh with eighteen points (which is also fifth-most among defensemen in the AHL), and Fabian Zetterlunds seventeen points. Zetterlund also leads the team in goals scored with nine.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are last in the AHL in team offense with fifty-three goals scored in twenty-four games. They are led by right-wing Valtteri Puustinen’s sixteen points (seven goals and nine assists). Newly acquired former NHL first-round pick Alexander Nylander becomes the second-leading scorer on the team along with Jordy Bellerive with twelve points each, although Nylander’s eight goals with his former team, the Rockford Ice Hogs, will make him the leading goal scorer on the Penguins. Utica Comets fans are familiar with Alex Nylander as he played three seasons with rival the Rochester Americans.

Central New York College Hockey Returns This Weekend

Despite giving up six goals in each of their last two games, the Comets have still given up the least amount of goals in the league at fifty-two in twenty-three games. Since losing mainstay goaltenders Nico Daws to injury and Akira Schmid to NHL recall, Mareks Mitens has started four straight games between the pipes for Utica. In those four games, he has a record of 2-1-1-0 with a GAA of 3.47 and save percentage of .873. He is backed up by David Tomeo, who was recently signed by the team to a PTO. Tomeo has yet to see game action for Utica.

The goaltending duties for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are handled by Filip Lindberg and Tommy Nappier. Lindberg has a record of 4-2-0 with a GAA of 2.76 and save percentage of .915. Nappier’s record is 1-4-1 and has a GAA of 3.61 and a .883 save percentage.

The Comets are tied for tenth in the American Hockey League in power-play efficiency with their former incarnation the Abbotsford Canucks at 20%. Utica’s sixty-five power-play opportunities are by far the least amount in the AHL and they have converted thirteen of them. The Penguins are last overall in the league in power-play efficiency, converting only ten of their one hundred and two chances for a 9.8% rate.

On the penalty-kill, the Comets are fourth overall in the AHL, having killed sixty-four of seventy-four of their opponents power-plays for an 86.5% success rate. The Penguins are twenty-seventh overall having given up twenty goals in the ninety-five times they have been shorthanded for a success rate of 78.9%.

The opening faceoff is scheduled for 7:05 pm. Radio coverage begins with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL), and the television broadcast will be on WPNY and AHLTV.

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