The Utica Comets head to Springfield, Massachussetts on Wednesday night to make up a game that was postponed from December 29th.
The Springfield Thunderbirds (3rd place in the Atlantic Division with a 22-14-5-1 and a .595 winning percentage) will be looking for a little payback against the Utica Comets on Wednesday night on their home ice after being dismantled five days ago by the Comets in Utica by a score of 5-1. In that game, Akira Schmid, AJ Greer, Joe Gambardella, and Kevin Bahl all came up big for the Comets.
After having a rough start to January (at least by their standards), the Comets are rolling once again. They are 7-2-1 in their last ten games and have the best record in the American Hockey League at 27-6-5-0 with a .776 winning percentage. Utica has been outstanding in both the offensive and defensive facets of the game, ranking third overall in the AHL in both goals scored with 141, and goals allowed at 96. This team has embraced a “next man up” mentality and that was illustrated in the game against Springfield on Saturday. With team-leading scorer Chase DeLeo not playing due to injury, Kevin Bahl scored a goal and had two assists while AJ Greer and Joe Gambardella had a goal and an assist each as well. Fabian Zetterlund (16 goals and 17 assists) and Alexander Holtz 13 goals and 15 assists), deserve all the attention they get, but it is Greer who has a six-game point streak and Gambardella riding a five-game point streak as well. Next man up indeed.
The defense has been missing a key piece for the past couple of weeks, as defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon has been away from the team while at the Olympics representing Team Canada. Of the six Utica Comets that are among the top twenty in the AHL in +/-, Wotherspoon is second overall in the league at +21. A big factor in the solid team defense numbers is the stellar goaltending the Comets have received. With Nico Daws recalled to the New Jersey Devils, Akira Schmid is the main man in the Comets crease with Mareks Mitens backing him up. Schmid has had time at the NHL level this season, but he has been simply outstanding in the AHL. He has a record of 11-0-2 with a 1.54 GAA and .947 save percentage. He is first in the league in GAA and save percentage and has yet to lose a game in regulation. For his part, Mitens has a record of 5-3-1 with a GAA of 3.64 and a save percentage of .879 for the Comets this season.
Despite only scoring one goal against Utica on Saturday night, the Springfield Thunderbirds do not have a problem scoring goals – as they are fifth overall in the AHL with 134. They are led by their “big three” of Nathan Walker, Matthew Peca, and Sam Anas. Walker and Peca are tied for the team in points with thirty-four and Anas is right behind them with thirty-three. Walker leads the team in goals scored with sixteen, and Anas paces them in assists with twenty-two (both are also former Utica Comets). Walker is currently on a point per game pace as his thirty-four points in thirty-one games played.
Team defense has been the Achilles heel for the Springfield Thunderbirds, as only four teams have allowed more than the 136 goals they have surrendered. Those totals, however, could be helped with goaltender Charlie Lindegren regaining his form since returning from the St. Louis Blues in January. He has won his last two starts and has a GAA of 1.89 and a save percentage of .936 over those starts. Overall he has a record of 11-2-1 and GAA of 2.50 and .916 save percentage – both are eleventh best in the AHL. His goaltending tandem partner Joel Hofer is 10-9-3 with a 3.24 GAA and .898 save percentage. Hofer took the loss in Saturday’s night game against Utica.
Both the Comets and Thunderbirds are very dangerous on the powerplay. Utica is third in the league, converting 27 of 116 powerplay chances for a conversion rate of 23.3%. Fourteen teams have played less games than the Comets, yet they are last in the league in powerplay opportunities. Springfield is right behind them with the league’s fourth-best powerplay operating with a 22.7% conversion rate. They have scored on 40 of their 176 powerplay opportunities.
Utica and Springfield are both in the bottom half in the American Hockey League in penalty-killing success. The Comets are eighteenth at 80.8% allowing 24 goals on 125 times shorthanded. The Thunderbirds are twenty-eighth giving up 40 goals of the 176 times they have been shorthanded for a success rate of 75.6%.
Wednesday night’s game is scheduled to start at 7:05 pm EST. Radio coverage begins with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL). The television broadcast will be on AHLTV and begins at 7:05.