Injuries, protocols, and recalls have changed the look of Wednesday nights game between the Utica Comets and Rochester Americans since the last time they met.
What a difference a month makes for the Utica Comets.
It was almost a month ago, December 8th to be exact when the Comets last played the Americans. It was that game that kicked off the roster turmoil that has been swirling around the team ever since when goaltender Nico Daws left the game in the third period with a lower-body injury and hasn’t been back since.
In that game, Utica had Akira Schmid available to finish the game for Daws. Also on the roster for Utica that night were Marian Studenic, AJ Greer, Nolan Foote, Graeme Clarke, Alexander Holtz, and Kevin Bahl. Now, Schmid, Studenic, Greer, and Foote are all with the New Jersey Devils, Holtz and Bahl are in the AHL Covid protocols, and Clarke is on injured reserve with a hand injury. A different team indeed.
At the time of that fateful December 8th game, the Comets were running away with the American Hockey League’s best record. Since then, Utica still has the best winning percentage in the league at .820, but they have gone 2-2-1-0. The Americans are second place in the North Division behind the Comets with an 18-11-0-0 record for a winning percentage of .621.
The Americans have experienced some roster turmoil of their own, particularly in goal. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was the team’s regular starter before being recalled to the Buffalo Sabres in December. In response, the Sabres have recalled Micahel Dell from Rochester leaving the team with Mat Robson who they recalled from Cincinnatti of the ECHL, and Bryan Haude to handle their goaltending duties. Robson was recalled on Wednesday morning and Haude was signed to a PTO at the same time.
The good news for the Americans is the Sabres have reassigned Jack Quinn, Casey Fitzgerald, and Brandon Biro to Rochester. All three have been key contributors to the American’s success this season.
With all of this as the backdrop, the Utica Comets and Rochester Americans will meet on Wednesday night for their fifth meeting of the season, this time at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena. The Comets won the first three meetings with the Americans taking the last two. The teams will face each other a total of twelve times this season.
The Comets enter the game ranked tenth in the AHL in total offense with ninety-one goals scored. Individually, they are led by Chase DeLeo – who has six goals and eighteen assists in seventeen games played this season. Besides leading his team in scoring, DeLeo also has a six-game point-scoring streak going as well. Fabian Zetterlund leads Utica in goals scored with nine.
To put it simply, the offense is the Rochester Americans calling card. They lead the American Hockey League in goals scored with 108. Three Amerks are in the top twenty of AHL scorers: Michael Mersch is fouth with thirty points, Jack Quinn is twelfth with twenty-six points, and JJ Peterka is twentieth with twenty-five points. Mersch leads the team in goals scored with sixteen and Peterka leads in assists with nineteen.
The goaltending situation for both teams does not look anything like it did earlier in the season for either team. Since losing Daws and Schmid, Mareks Mitens has started every game for the Comets in goal. In his six AHL games this season he has a record of 3-2-1-0 with a 3.45 GAA and .877 save percentage. He is backed up by David Tomeo, who is signed to a PTO with Utica and has yet to see any game action.
The aforementioned Robson will most likely be making the start in goal for Rochester on Wednesday night. He was actually in goal for Rochester the last time these two teams met on December 8th and made thirty-two saves to pick up the win. In three games for Rochester this season, Robson has a record of 2-1-0-0 to go with a GAA of 5.87 and .826 save percentage.
With the top-rated offense in the league, it’s not surprising the Americans have the best power play in the AHL as well. They have converted 27 of 103 powerplay opportunities for a success rate of 26.2%. At 21.3%, the Comets have the seventh best powerplay in the AHL, scoring on 16 of 75 powerplay chances. The seventy-five powerplay opportunities are by far the least amount in the AHL.
The teams are close in regard to powerplay efficiency, but their is quite the gap between their penalty killing prowess. The Comets rank fifth in the AHL at 85.7% – allowing 12 goals on 84 opposing powerplays. The Americans are twenty-first, giving up 27 goals on 103 opposition powerplays for success rate of 80.8%.
The opening faceoff is at 7:05pm EST with radio coverage beginning with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL). The television broadcast will be on AHLTV.