Coming off of a big win on Friday night, the Utica Comets travel to the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvaina to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday night.
The Utica Comets (29-9-5-0, 63 points, .733 points percentage) will be looking for some payback on Saturday night against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (17-18-6-2, 42 points, .488 points percentage). In their last meeting on New Year’s Eve, the Phantoms stunned the crowd at the Adirondack Bank Center by scoring five unanswered goals to overcome a 5-1 deficit and skate away with a 6-5 overtime victory against the Comets. Like they were for the last meeting between the two teams, Utica is in first place in the North Division, while Lehigh Valley is currently in sixth place in the Atlantic Division.
Entering Saturday night’s game, the Comets have the second most potent offense in the AHL, having scored 157 goals while averaging just under 3.7 goals scored per game. At the top of their scoring list is both Fabian Zetterlund and Chase DeLeo, who have thirty-seven points each and are tied for the twentieth most in the American Hockey League. Zetterlund leads the team in goals scored with eighteen, while DeLeo’s twenty-seven assists are tied for the club lead in that category with Reilly Walsh (Walsh is also fourth on the team in points). The Comets have five players who have at least thirty points – AJ Greer joined Zetterlund, DeLeo, Alexander Holtz, and Walsh in that group on Friday night after his four-goal performance upped his point total to thirty-two for the season.
Overall, the Phantoms have struggled to score goals this season, as they are twenty-second overall in the league so far this season with 119 goals scored. The Phantoms offensive leaderboard is topped by two former Utica Comets – Cal O’Reilly and Adam Clendening. O’Reilly leads the team in points with thirty-three and his twelve goals are second on the Phantoms behind Hayden Hodgson’s thirteen. Clendening is second on the club in points with twenty-eight and leads the team in assists with twenty-three.
The Comets and New Jersey Devils have done yet another goalie swap. Nico Daws picked up the win for Utica on Friday night after being reassigned to the team with the recall of Akira Schmid. On Saturday morning it was announced Schmid was reassigned to Utica and Daws was recalled to New Jersey yet again (this is smart roster management by the Devils, taking advantage of a lull in the schedule to get both goaltenders playing time). Although he has had a rough past couple of starts, Schmid’s overall AHL numbers have been outstanding. His record is 12-2-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .929 save percentage. He is number one in the league in save percentage and number two in GAA. Mareks Mitens has served as the backup to both Schmid and Daws and has a 5-4-1 record with a 3.49 GAA and .880 save percentage.
Utica is sixth in the American Hockey League in total team defense, having allowed 114 goals.
Much like their total offense ranking, the Phantoms are twenty-second in the league in total defense, as they have allowed 137 goals to be scored this season. Felix Sandstrom and Garrett Metcalf comprise the current Lehigh Valley goaltending duo. Sandstrom has a record of 8-11-3 with a GAA of 3.04 and his save percentage is .895. Metcalf is 2-1-1 with a 3.48 GAA and .882 save percentage. Sandstrom has started the last two games in a row in the net for the Phantoms.
There is a large disparity in powerplay efficiency between the Comets and Phantoms, as the Comets are fourth in the AHL scoring 32 goals on 135 chances for a conversion rate of 23.7%. The Phantoms are twenty-eighth in the league, as they have a conversion rate of 14.5% – scoring 21 powerplay goals in 145 chances.
They have struggled on the powerplay, but Lehigh Valley has been very effective on the penalty kill. They are sixth in the American Hockey League, allowing only 23 goals on 139 times shorthanded for a success rate of 83.5%. The Comet’s 80.8% success rate on the penalty kill places them eighteenth in the league in that category. They have allowed 28 goals on 146 times shorthanded.
Saturday night’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05 pm EST. Radio coverage begins with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL), and the television broadcast begins at 7:05 on AHLTV.