The Utica Comets will square off with a team they are very familiar with in the semi-finals of the North Division Calder Cup Playoffs.
The long wait is finally over for the Utica Comets.
By virtue of finishing in first place in the North Division (and first place in the Eastern Conference overall) with a record of 43-20-8-1, 95 points, 0.660 points percentage, the Comets earned a first-round bye. During the bye, the fourth-place Belleville Senators and fifth place Rochester Americans faced each other in a best of three play-in series for the right to face Utica. The Americans (37-29-7-3, 84 points, 0.553 points percentage) prevailed by winning two straight games in overtime, setting the stage for an all New York State series.
The Utica Comets and Rochester Americans are certainly no strangers to each other. The teams have played each other twelve times, with each winning six games. One of the American’s wins came on November 24th, when they ended the Comets AHL record-setting undefeated streak to start a season at thirteen games. It was also against Rochester in a game on December 8th that goaltender Nico Daws was injured, setting the stage for Mareks Mitens to take over as the Comets starting goaltender for about one month. Mitens got the job when Akira Schmid was called up to the New Jersey Devils two days after the Daws injury.
Both the Comets and the Americans have greatly benefited from their respective NHL parent clubs not making the playoffs this season. Utica played without several of their regulars during the month of April, as they were getting their look in the National Hockey League. Now that the Devil’s season is over Fabian Zetterlund, Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk, Nolan Foote, Reilly Walsh, and Alexander Holtz are all back in Utica for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Rochester has not received the number of players from their NHL parent club, the Buffalo Sabres, as the Comets got from theirs – but the quality is certainly there. Buffalo reassigned center Peyton Krebs and defenseman Casey Fitzgerald to the Americans for the remainder of their season. Krebs is a rookie sensation who adds to an already potent Rochester offense, while Fitzgerald adds a stabilizing presence to a blueline that has been susceptible to giving up goals all season long.
The North Division semifinal matchup between the Utica Comets and Rochester Americans is a best of five games series. It will be a 2-2-1 format, with the first two games being played in Utica starting on Tuesday night May 10th. The winner of this series will play the winner of the other North Division semifinal which pits the Laval Rocket against the Syracuse Crunch. Here’s the ” tale of the tape” for the series between the Comets and the Americans. Note all totals and ranks are as of the end of the regular season.
- Goals For (overall): 246 (3.42 per game) – 4th overall in the AHL.
- Goals For (home): 122 (3.39 per game) – 10th overall in the AHL.
- Goals For (away): 124 (3.44 per game) – 4th overall in the AHL.
- Chase DeLeo: 21 goals and 35 assists = 56 points (1.02 points per game).
- Fabian Zetterlund: 24 goals and 28 assists = 52 points (0.90 points per game).
- AJ Greer: 22 goals and 30 assists = 52 points (0.98 points per game).
- Alexander Holtz: 26 goals and 25 assists = 51 points (0.98 points per game).
- Reilly Walsh: 9 goals and 34 assists = 43 points (0.61 points per game). Walsh is sixth among AHL defensemen in points and eighth in assists.
Chase DeLeo leads the Comets in shots with 180, while Fabian Zetterlund leads the team in game-winning goals with seven. Despite having scored the fourth-most goals scored overall in the American Hockey League, Utica does not have one player in the top twenty of any overall scoring category in the league.
- Goals For (overall): 254 (3.34 per game) – 3rd overall in the AHL.
- Goals For (home): 132 (3.47 per game) – 4th overall in the AHL.
- Goals For (away): 122 (3.21 per game) – 6th overall in the AHL.
- JJ Peterka: 28 goals and 40 assists = 68 points (0.97 points per game). Peterka is tenth overall in the AHL in points, thirteenth in assists, fifteenth in goals, and fifth in shots.
- Jack Quinn: 26 goals and 35 assists = 61 points (1.36 points per game). Quinn is twentieth overall in the AHL in points and goals
- Michael Mersch: 26 goals and 28 assists = 54 points (0.83 points per game).
- Arttu Ruotsalainen: 18 goals and 33 assists = 51 points (0.89 points per game).
- Ethan Prow: 10 goals and 39 assists = 49 points (0.70 points per game). Prow is sixteenth overall in the AHL in assists, is third among AHL defensemen in points and assists, and is tenth in goals.
Defense and Goaltending.
- Goals Against (overall): 206 (2.86 per game) – 9th overall in the AHL.
- Goals Against (home): 92 (2.56 per game) – 4th overall in the AHL.
- Goals Against (away): 114 (3.17 per game) – 13th overall in the AHL.
- Akira Schmid has a record of 22-8-5 with a GAA of 2.60, a 0.911 save percentage, and two shutouts. He is eighth in the AHL in wins, fourteenth in GAA, seventeenth in save percentage, and fourteenth in shutouts.
- Nico Daws has a record of 14-4-2 with a GAA of 2.54, a 0.916 save percentage, and one shutout. He has not played enough AHL games this season to qualify among the league leaders.
- Mareks Mitens has a record of 7-8-2 with a GAA of 3.31 and a 0.888 save percentage.
- Goals Against (overall): 270 (3.55 per game) – 30th overall in the AHL.
- Goals Against (home): 127 (3.34 per game) – 28th overall in the AHL.
- Goals Against (away): 143 (3.76 per game) – 30th overall in the AHL.
- Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has a record of 15-14-6 with a GAA of 3.28, a 0.900 save percentage, and one shutout.
- Aaron Dell has a record of 12-7-1 with a GAA of 2.91 and a 0.909 save percentage.
Special Teams – Power Play.
- Overall: 21.6% (50 goals in 231 opportunities) – 5th overall in the AHL.
- Home: 19.5 % (23 goals in 118 opportunities) – 18th overall in the AHL.
- Away: 23.9% (27 goals in 113 opportunities) – 6th overall in the AHL.
- Power play points: Chase DeLeo with eighteen.
- Power play goals: Fabian Zetterlund with eight.
- Power play assists: Reilly Walsh with fifteen.
The Comets have allowed five shorthanded goals this season, only the Ontario Reign have allowed fewer.
- Overall: 23.5% (65 goals in 277 opportunities) – 3rd overall in the AHL.
- Home: 24.5% (34 goals in 139 opportunities) – 2nd overall in the AHL.
- Away: 22.5% (31 goals in 138 opportunities) – 10th overall in the AHL.
- Power play points: Oskari Laaksonen with twenty-seven.
- Power play goals: Jack Quinn with ten.
- Power play assists: Laaksonen with twenty-three.
Rochester has allowed fourteen shorthanded goals, which is the most in the American Hockey League.
Special Teams – Penalty Kill.
- Overall: 81.9% (41 power-play goals allowed in 227 times shorthanded) – 9th overall in the AHL.
- Home: 88.2% (13 power-play goals allowed in 110 times shorthanded) – 2nd overall in the AHL.
- Away: 76.1% (28 power-play goals allowed in 117 times shorthanded) – 27th overall in the AHL.
- Shorthanded goals scored: 13 – tied for 3rd overall in the AHL.
AJ Greer leads the Comets in shorthanded goals with four, which is also fourth overall in the league.
- Overall: 79.5% (54 power-play goals allowed in 264 times shorthanded) – 22nd overall in the AHL.
- Home: 80.7% (26 power-play goals in 135 times shorthanded) – 12th overall in the AHL.
- Away: 78.3% (28 power-play goals allowed in 129 times shorthanded) – 23rd overall in the AHL.
- Shorthanded goals scored: 5 – 27th overall in the AHL.
Five individual players have scored the team’s five shorthanded goals.
This should be a very fun series between two evenly matched teams. The Comets will be well-rested as they have not played a game since April 30th, but the Americans have momentum coming into this series as they are just coming off of a two-game play-in series over the Belleville Senators. Scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem for either team, but the Comets have the home-ice advantage and are the better defensive team thanks in part to their goaltending tandem of Akira Schmid and Nico Daws. This series will go all five games, but because of their defensive advantage, the Utica Comets will win it.