The Utica Comets take on the Cleveland Monsters at the Adirondack Bank Center on Friday and Saturday nights.
In the standings, the Utica Comets and Cleveland Monsters are opposite trajectories. The Comets are in first place by a comfortable margin with a 27-7-5-0 and a .756 points percentage (thank you Ben Birnell for the clarification) while the Monsters are in last place in the same division posting a 13-19-5-3 record good for a .425 points percentage.
When it comes to these two teams, however, the standings do not tell the whole story. They have played each other three times so far this season, and although the Comets have won all three games, two of those were by a one-goal margin and the other game was a two-goal victory. Although separated by twenty-five points in the standings, the Monsters have proven thus far they stay in games against the high-flying Comets.
Entering this weekend’s series, the Utica Comets are ranked third overall in the American Hockey League in goals scored with 143. This despite playing the last three games without team-leading scorer Chase DeLeo, who has ten goals and twenty-five assists in only twenty-seven games played. In his absence, the team’s leading goal scorer, Fabian Zetterlund, has significantly closed the gap between him and Deleo for the Comets points lead. Zetterlund now has thirty-four points on the strength of seventeen goals and seventeen assists and has an active three-game point streak. Speaking of point streaks, fellow Swede Alexander Holtz has taken his game to the next level as of late, as he has at least one point in five straight games and has a total of fourteen goals and fifteen assists in only twenty-five games played.
The Monsters rank twenty-fifth in the AHL in team offense with 108 goals scored and are without team-leading scorer (in both points and goals) Brendan Gaunce who is currently with Cleveland’s NHL parent club the Columbus Blue Jackets. With Gaunce gone, defenseman Jake Christiansen leads the team in points with twenty-two. He is trailed by Tyler Angle who has twenty-one points along with Liam Foudy and Kevin Stenlund, who has nineteen each. Foudy also currently leads the Monsters in goals scored with seven.
Like their offense, the Utica Comets ranks in the top five in the AHL as well, as they are ranked fifth – giving up ninety-nine goals so far this season. They have five current roster players in the top twenty in the league in +/- (six if you count Tyler Wotherspoon, who is currently with the Canadian Olympic Team). Goaltending has been a calling card of the Comets all season long too. Current starter Akira Schmid finally suffered his first loss in regulation on Wednesday against the Springfield Thunderbirds, which is astounding considering the date of that game was February 9th. Schmid has a record of 11-1-2, and ranks number one in the AHL in both GAA (1.65) and save percentage (.944). He is backed up by Mareks Mitens, who is 5-3-1 with a 3.64 GAA and .879 save percentage so far for the Comets this season.
Like their offense, the Monsters are in the bottom half of the league in team defense as well – ranking twenty-seventh allowing 137 goals. Cleveland has been having trouble finding consistency in goal, especially with Danill Tarasov currently in Columbus. The Monsters goaltending tandem is currently made up of Jean-Francois Berube and Jet Greaves. Berube is 4-8-4 on the season with a 3.16 GAA and .899 save percentage. Greaves has a record of 3-6-0 to go with a 3.35 GAA and .890 save percentage.
Reflecting their offensive capabilities, the Comets and Monsters are on the opposite ends of the spectrum on the powerplay as well. Utica has the third best powerplay unit in the league, converting 28 of 118 chances (still the least amount of chances in the AHL) for a success rate of 23.7%. Cleveland ranks twenty-seventh, as they have scored 21 goals on 139 opportunities for a success rate of 15.1%.
The one category Utica and Cleveland have similarities is the penalty kill, where they are both in the bottom half of the AHL. The Comets are eighteenth, allowing 25 goals on the 129 times they have been shorthanded for a success rate of 80.6%. The rank twenty-fifth, as they have allowed 37 goals on the 163 times they have been shorthanded for a success rate of 77.3%.
Both of this weekends games are scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm EST. On both nights radio coverage will begin with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL) and the television broadcast will begin at 7:00 pm on both WPNY and AHLTV.