The Utica Comets got off to a good start against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday night but did not get the result they were looking for.
The Utica Comets (39-16-6-1, 85 points, 0.685 points percentage) are closing in on clinching a playoff spot for the 2021-22 AHL Playoffs. On the flip side, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (24-27-7-4, 59 points, 0.476 points percentage) playoff hopes are on life support. Despite the disparity in records, the Phantoms skated away with a 3-2 victory over the Comets on their home ice at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The celebration for clinching a playoff spot will have to wait a little longer for the Comets, as the Rochester Americans, Belleville Senators, and Syracuse Crunch all picked up at least one point on Saturday night. All three of those teams picking up points is significant as 0.05 points percentage separate the three teams between the fourth and sixth place in the North Division – as Utica’s magic number is based on whoever occupies the sixth spot in the division. The Comets will clinch a playoff spot, it’s now just a question of when. In the meantime, here are three observations from Saturday night’s game.
New and returning faces provided a boost.
Even though they lost the game, the Comets appear to be getting a boost just in time for their playoff push. In his second game back since being reassigned by the New Jersey Devils, Tyce Thompson had his second consecutive multi-point game. As he did on Friday night against Syracuse, Thompson recorded a goal and assist and now has eleven points in nine total games played for Utica this season.
A brand new addition to the team scored his first goal in only his second professional game. Brian Halonen was signed by the New Jersey Devils as a college free agent out of Michigan Tech on Sunday and signed his ATO with the Comets shortly thereafter. Halonen made his debut on Friday night, and all though he was held off the scoresheet then, he made his presence felt on Saturday night. He picked up a rebound off a shot from the aforementioned Thompson and lifted a backhand shot into the top of the Lehigh Valley net for the first professional goal of his career. The Comets and Devils hope there are many more to come from Halonen.
The Comets just ran out of gas.
After outshooting the Phantoms 30-17 over the first two periods, the 2-1 lead the Comets held going into the third period disappeared and was eventually lost. If Utica was a bit tired going into the third period, one could hardly blame them. They were on their fifth game in seven nights as well as the second game of a back-to-back. In all fairness, Lehigh Valley was on the second game of a back-to-back as well, but unlike the Comets, the Phantoms had five days off before starting their back-to-back. Utica now has three nights off from gameplay, as their next game is on Wednesday night at home against the Belleville Senators.
Just wait until these guys get going.
One of the keys to the Utica Comets’ success this season is that they have been able to get contributions from everyone up and down the lineup. It’s the reason they have been able to withstand various slumps that happen to everyone from time to time. Right now, two of Utica’s biggest contributors on offense are in a cold streak, but as the team’s record indicates, they are weathering the storm.
Alexander Holtz has dazzled fans all season with his electrifying shot and knack for scoring goals, as he has twenty-two of them on the season. Lately, however, the goals have been hard to come by. After a streak where he scored a goal in three straight games, he now has only one in his last ten games played. He has twenty-six shots over those past ten games, so as long as he keeps shooting the puck, the goals should be piling up again soon for the rookie sensation.
Reilly Walsh has been a major factor in driving the Utica offense from the blue line this season. He has seven goals and twenty-nine assists for thirty-six points this season, ranking ninth among all defensemen in assists and tenth in points. The past fifteen games, however, have been a struggle on offense for the young defenseman as he has only two points (one goal and one assist) over his last fifteen games. Like Holtz, he is shooting the puck as he has twenty-eight shots during those games so it certainly is not from lack of effort.
Both Holtz and Walsh are too talented for these slumps to last much longer. Once they emerge, it will add an even more dangerous element to an offense that is already third in the American Hockey League in total goals scored.