With both teams coming off of overtime victories on Friday night, the Utica Comets and Springfield Thunderbirds will square off on Saturday night at the Adirondack Bank Center.
For the Utica Comets, overcoming subtractions to the roster has become a way of life.
On Friday night they faced the Laval Rocket without leading scorer Chase DeLeo, who was a surprise scratch, and their third-leading goal scorer in Nate Schnarr – who has been out of action for a couple of weeks. Defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon hasn’t been with the team since January 22nd either, as he is with the Canadian Olympic Team.
Despite missing key players, the Comets have a 6-2-2-0 record in their last ten games and own an overall record of 26-6-5-0 with a .770 winning percentage – the best in the AHL. On Saturday night they welcome in the Springfield Thunderbirds for the first of two meetings in the regular season. The Thunderbirds enter the game in third place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 22-13-5-1 and a winning percentage of .610. Springfield is the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. The Utica Comets franchise has a history with the city of Springfield, Massachusetts – for more on that click here The franchise(s) history of the Utica Comets.
With 136 goals scored this season, the Comets currently have the fourth-most in the American Hockey League. The aforementioned DeLeo leads the team in points, but right behind him is Fabian Zetterlund with thirty-two points. The twenty-two-year-old native of Sweden has taken his game to the next level in his third season in the AHL. He is not only second on the Comets in points, but he leads the team in goals scored with sixteen.
Defenseman Reilly Walsh is third on the team in points with twenty-eight and is the only Comet to play in all thirty-seven of their games so far this season. Hot on Walsh’s trail is Alexander Holtz who has twenty-seven points in only twenty-three games played. Holtz’s thirteen goals are second only to Zetterlunds sixteen.
The Springfield Thunderbirds are also capable of packing a punch on offense with 133 goals scored – good for fifth-best in the league right behind the Comets. They have a triumvirate of players atop their scoring list, led by center Matthew Peca. Peca is a veteran of eighty-three NHL games and has thirty-four points. Right behind him with thirty-three points is Nathan Walker with thirty-two points. Walker played four games in Utica last season when the Vancouver Canucks and Blues split the Comets as an AHL affiliate and lead Springfield in goals scored this season with fifteen. Completing Springfield’s scoring triumvirate is Sam Anas with thirty-one points. Like Walker, Anas spent time in Utica last season with the Comets recording twenty-three points in twenty-three games played.
Utica and Springfield are close in team offensive statistics, they are not close on the defensive side of things. The Comets rank fifth in the AHL in goals allowed with ninety-five due in large part to a strong defensive scheme and great goaltending. Guarding the Utica net this season has been the trio of Nico Daws, Akira Schmid, and Mareks Mitens. The New Jersey Devils recalled Daws on Friday morning and reassigned Schmid to the Comets – paving the way for him to start against Laval on Friday night and defeat them. Schmid has been with the Devils (for the most part) since early December, but his American Hockey League numbers are sparkling. He has a record of 10-0-2-0 with a GAA of 1.58, a .945 save percentage, and two shutouts. While Daws is assigned to New Jersey, Mitens will serve as Schmid’s backup.
There’s no doubt the Springfield Thunderbirds can score goals, but they are having problems keeping the puck out of their net this season, as the 131 goals they have allowed this season ranks twenty-eighth in the league. Their goaltending tandem consists of Joel Hofer and Charlie Lindgren, who is back after a stint with the Blues. Lindgren by far has the better numbers of the two as he has a record of 11-2-1 with a GAA of 2.50 and .916 save percentage. Hofer has posted a record of 10-8-3 and has a GAA of 3.21 to go with a .900 save percentage.
With both teams having prolific offenses, it is no surprise their powerplays are in the AHL top five. Utica ranks third scoring 27 goals on 115 powerplay opportunities for a 23.5% conversion rate. The 115 powerplay chances are the fewest in the league. Springfield has the fourth-best powerplay unit in the American Hockey League, converting 39 of 172 chances for an efficiency rate of 22.7%.
Both the Comets and Thunderbirds are in the bottom half of the AHL on the penalty kill. Despite their strong five-on-five defensive play, they rank eighteenth in the AHL in penalty killing efficiency at 81% – allowing 23 goals on 121 times shorthanded. Springfield has struggled even more on the penalty kill, ranking twenty-seventh at 75.5%. They have allowed 40 powerplay goals in the 163 times they have been shorthanded.
Saturday night’s game between the Utica Comets and Springfield Thunderbirds is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm EST. Radio coverage begins with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL) and the television broadcast begins at 7:00 on WPNY and AHLTV.