The Utica Comets led 4-2 going into the third period, but are forced to comeback for the victory.
Two of the state of Pennsylvania’s AHL representatives have given the Utica Comets fits as of late, and Friday night was no different. After losing to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on New Year’s Eve when they led that game by four goals at one point, the Comets almost let a lead slip away against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. This time, however, the Comets were able to pull out a 6-5 shootout victory against the “Baby Pens”.
The Pittsburgh Penguins recently acquired Alex Nylander from the Chicago Blackhawks and assigned him to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. That move would pay off early in the first period of this game as he set up Valtteri Puustinen for a power-play goal to put the Penguins up 1-0.
The Comets welcomed defenseman Kevin Bahl and forward Alexander Holtz back after being reassigned to the team by the New Jersey Devils, and Holtz quickly reacclimated himself back to Utica. Just a minute and a half after the Penguins opened the scoring, Holtz pounced on a loose puck at the bottom of the right circle and put it into an open Wilkes-Barre/Scranton net to tie the game as Penguins goaltender Tommy Nappier was down and out of position on the play.
Just two minutes after the Holtz goal, the Comets took the lead when Brian Flynn tipped a Jeremy Groleau shot from the point between Nappier’s legs and into the net. The Penguins tied the score on a tip-in of their own when Jordy Bellerive tipped a Cam Lee shot past Utica goaltender Mareks Mitens, and the game went to the first intermission with the score of 2-2.
The second period belonged to the Utica Comets as they outshot the Penguins by a 12-6 margin – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton did not get their first shot in the period until the ten-minute mark. The Comets also scored the only goals of the period, with the first one being scored on the power play by Nate Schnarr off of a feed from team-leading scorer Chase DeLeo. The second Comets goal of the period came from captain Ryan Schmelzer, who took advantage of an egregious giveaway by the Penguins in front of their own goal and snapped the puck past Nappier to give the Comets a 4-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
As badly as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins played in the second period, they did a complete 180 and dominated the third period. They outshot the Comets in the third period 17-7 and took a 5-4 lead on goals by Jan Drozg, Valtteri Puustinen (his second of the night), and former Utica Comet Taylor Fedun’s first of the season to build a 5-4 lead. It appeared the Comets would be stunned in the third period for the second straight time at home, but a power-play goal by Frederik Gauthier from the slot off a pass from Alexander Holtz tied the game for the Comets and ultimately sent the contest to overtime.
In the overtime period, Utica had the better of the scoring chances but could not light the lamp, so the game would be resolved in the shootout – the first one of the season for the Comets. In the shootout, the Comets and Penguins traded goals in the first round by Holtz and Anthony Angello respectively. The game-winner came in the second round when Utica’s Fabian Zetterlund wound up and blasted a slapshot past Nappier. Mitens stopped Zetterlund’s counterpart Alex Nylander and then Pusstinen in the third round to seal the win for the Comets.
Notes: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton outshot Utica 36-33…Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was 1 for 5 on the power play, Utica was 2 for 6…Valtteri Puustinen led the Penguins in scoring with two goals and one assist, Alexander Holtz (one goal and two assists) and Chase DeLeo (three assists) led the Comets…Chase DeLeo has a five-game point-scoring streak going (postponed games not included) and has multiple points in each of his last three games…Brian Flynn has scored a game in each of his last two games, and a three-game point streak…Wilkes-Barre/Scranton plays again on Saturday night in Hershey, Utica plays again on Saturday night as well at home against Hartford.