Happy Friday, everybody! This is a scouting report that I have been looking forward to doing for awhile now. The Utica Comets have been one of the best teams in the AHL this entire season. They enter having won seven of their last ten games including the last two contests by a combined 8-3. The Comets offer a complete game and it has worked like magic for them since the start of the season.
The Comets have a record of 24-8-5-0 (53 points) this season which has leading the North Division. The closest team to the Comets in their division are the Adirondack Flames who trail by 5 points despite having played in three more games.
Utica are currently second overall in the Western Conference thanks in small part to the massive surge taking place for the Oklahoma City Barons – who have gone 9-1-0-0 in their last ten games to claim the West’s top seed by 3 points.
What has been so effective for the Comets this season has been their defense and goaltending. They’ve only allowed 83 goals all season. The only two teams to have allowed the same or less than the Comets are the Hershey Bears (81 goals allowed) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (83 goals allowed).
The man most responsible for this great goaltending situation in Utica hasn’t seen a whiff of the AHL since the 2005-06 season. That’s right. I’m talking about Ryan Miller. When he signed a three-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks in July it meant a log jam in net was going to happen with either Eddie Läck or Jacob Markström getting it on the chin.
As would be the case, Markström has spent his entire 2014-15 season to date in the AHL with the Comets. His response to the situation is just about exactly what you would want. He has been brilliant when called upon: 12-2-1-0 record, 1.85 goals against average, 0.936 save percentage, and 4 shutouts.
Markström is by no means alone in his efforts this season either. Hailing from exactly the same hometown of Sweden as his Comets battery-mate, Gävle, Joacim Eriksson has more-or-less been the anchor for the Comets in net this season. He has played in more games this season in net and has a record of 12-5-4-0, a 2.38 goals against average, and a 0.914 save percentage.
Eriksson was in net for both head-to-head games against the Admirals and won each contest. In the first meeting between the Ads and Comets last season he had a 21-save shutout in a 3-0 Comets win. He followed that up by stopping 20/23 in Utica and 3/5 in the shootout to end last year’s statline against the Ads with a 1.44 goals against average and 0.932 save percentage.
Tonight at 6:00 pm CST…
Fun Fact. The Utica Comets play in the Utica Memorial Auditorium. That happens to be the same barn as seen in the classic film “Slap Shot” where the amazing anthem scene takes place.
Why not stop and think back for a moment about all the good times you’ve had watching Cal O’Reilly play for the Milwaukee Admirals before tonight’s game? It will be only the second time in his career that he faces the Admirals when the Comets captain takes to the ice. His first game was the match-up in Utica last season.
O’Reilly’s track record for the Milwaukee Admirals just about speaks for itself. He is second all-time in the AHL history of the club with 253 points (56 goals, 197 assists). The assists total for him his the most in the AHL history of the team. While his 262 appearances has him eighth all-time in the AHL history of the Admirals.
This season O’Reilly leads the Comets in scoring with 30 points (4 goals, 26 assists). He has a plus/minus rating of -2 and only 6 penalty minutes on the season. His AHL career totals are now at 339 points (68 goals, 271 assists) in 376 games – a 0.90 points per game total.
Expectations for tonight’s game? Can the Admirals winning ways continue over the likes of the hefty Utica Comets? If Kevin Fiala debuts tonight what would that mean for the Admirals forward lineup and which center should he play with?