The Utica Comets dropped their fourth consecutive game on Saturday afternoon, as they fell to the Laval Rocket by a score of 5-3.
The Utica Comets push to clinch a playoff spot has stalled. They entered Saturday afternoon’s game at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec needing one point to clinch that playoff spot. They left still needing that point.
The way they opened Saturday’s game, it looked like they would leave the Province of Quebec as the second team from the Eastern Conference to be assured of a spot in the postseason tournament. Alexander Holtz opened the scoring at the 7:23 mark of the first period when he took a nifty backhand pass from Tyce Thompson and redirected a shot past Laval goaltender Cayden Primeau to give the Comets a 1-0 lead. Utica then picked up two more goals in less than two minutes after the Holtz goal when Ryan Schmelzer tipped a Holtz shot past Primeau and then Nolan Foote blasted a one-timer off a pass from Michael Vukojevic into the Laval net to get the visitors off and running.
Although the Comets owned the first ten minutes of the opening period, the last ten minutes of the frame belonged to the Rocket. They first responded with a goal by Joel Teasdale after former Comet Nate Schnarr created a turnover in the Utica zone and got the puck to Teasdale who did the rest. Just over two minutes later, Schnarr won a faceoff in the left circle of the Utica zone to Kevin Roy who cranked a one-timer past Comnet’s goaltender Akira Schmid to get the Rocket within one goal. The home team got yet another goal with 1:34 left in the first period when Alex Belzile put a loose puck in the Utica crease into an open net to tie the game at three heading into the first intermission.
After a free-wheeling first period, the scoring came to a halt in the second – even though the Comets poured seventeen shots in on Primeau. The Rocket took the lead at 4:53 of the third period when Rafael Harvey-Pinard sent a stretch pass to Jean-Sebastien Dea, who got behind the Utica defense and beat Schmid with a wrist shot into the upper right corner of the net from the left circle. The Comets got a boost when they killed off a five-on-three Laval power play with eight and half minutes left, but they could not take advantage on the scoreboard. The Rocket salted the game away with forty-eight seconds left when Dea scored into an empty Utica net for his second goal of the game and sealed the victory for his team. With the win, the Rocket earned a regular-season series split with the Comets, with each team winning three games.
With that said, here are my three observations from the game:
The Comets can still clinch – with help.
The Utica Comets do not play again until Friday night, April 15th against Syracuse, so they will have to wait for almost a week to try to get that one point they need to clinch a playoff spot themselves. They could have still clinched on Saturday night had the Rochester Americans lost to the Belleville Senators, but that did not happen. Utica can still clinch a playoff spot on Sunday if the Toronto Marlies lose to the Grand Rapids Griffins in regulation as the tweet below indicates. That game begins at 4:00 pm EDT.
An old friend haunts his old team.
Nate Schnarr was traded to the Montreal Canadiens by the New Jersey Devils for Andrew Hammond at the American Hockey League trade deadline (March 28th, 2022). The deal was made because the Devils desperately needed some goaltending depth, and although he did not play a game for New Jersey, Schnarr is one of those “sparkplug” types of players that is sorely missed in Utica.
Schnarr’s talents were on full display Saturday afternoon against his old team, as he picked up the primary assists on Laval’s first two goals to help spark their comeback. He was also physically involved and was a +3 for the game. Again, it is understood why New Jersey had to make the deal, but Nate Schnarr will certainly be an asset for the Rocket going forward.
The upcoming break could do the Comets some good.
The Utica Comets have been going through some roster upheaval as a result of injuries to both the New Jersey Devils and themselves. Fabian Zetterlund, AJ Greer, and Kevin Bahl are with the Devils on an extended road trip and Frederik Gauthier missed his third straight game on Saturday (ironically in his hometown of Laval, Quebec) while he deals with an injury. They are 4-5-1-0 over their past ten games with eight of those coming in a span of just two weeks.
They now have five days off from gameplay, and simply put, the break could be just what they needed. The trio of Comets that is with New Jersey right now likely will not be back by Friday, but with the extra rest, Frederik Gauthier could be. Their game on Friday against Syracuse is at home, so they now have the opportunity to rest, perhaps heal some nagging injuries, and most of all get a mental reset. Overall, the Utica Comets are a young team, and some of their players have yet to experience the grind of a full AHL season. A chance to “recharge the batteries” could be just what the doctor ordered.