The Utica Comets look to finish what they started last year as they begin the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs on Friday against the Albany Devils.
The Comets advanced all the way to the Calder Cup Final last season, falling in five games to the Manchester Monarchs. This time around, it’s a bit different. They enter as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference as opposed to the top seed in the Western Conference last season.
They will have their hands full with the Devils in the best-of-five series. Albany only surrendered 167 goals in 76 games during the season, an Eastern Conference best. The Devils (46-20-10) also went 6-0-2 against the Comets (38-26-12) during the regular season.
Game 1 – Friday, April 22: 4:00pm PT @ Albany
Game 2 – Saturday, April 23: 2:00pm PT @ Albany
Game 3 – Tuesday, April 26: 4:00pm PT @ Utica
*Game 4 – Thursday, April 28: 4:00pm PT @ Utica
*Game 5 – Saturday, April 30: 2:00pm PT @ Albany
Albany scouting report
The Devils are led up front by Mike Sislo and his 27 goals, while Matt Lorito led the team with 54 points. They won 27 games on home ice this season, which was tops in the AHL. They gave up just 2.20 goals per game this season, which was second best in the league.
“They are a really good team that has had a great season,” said Comets head coach, Travis Green. “They play a real sound game and they don’t give you a lot. They are real structured and have a big defence core. They don’t give up a lot of scoring chances and they don’t give up a lot of goals. You have to earn everything you get against them.”
Three keys to a series victory
Producing offence: As noted earlier, the Devils have the best goals-against in the conference. Goaltender Yann Danis posted a 2.22 GAA with eight shutouts on the season. The Devils also have a heavy defence corps. Of the eight defenceman currently on the roster that played over 40 games this season, five are 6-foot-3 or bigger and six tip the scales at over 200 pounds.
“You need to play them fast, you need to play them hard and you need to win puck battles,” said Green, “It will change how we play and we will tinker with our systems a bit, but as far as how hard we need to play, that won’t change just because we are going up against a big defence core.”
Special teams: The Devils enter the playoffs with the eighth ranked power play and third overall ranked penalty kill. The Comets meanwhile, sit 23rd on the power play and fourth in penalty killing. Utica will need to improve on their power play this series, while the penalty kill will need to continue to do what it has all season. Special teams could play a major role in the series as the Devils are one of the most penalized teams in the AHL.
“Special teams are always a big factor in the playoffs,” said Green. “They have really good special teams on both sides, penalty kill and power play. We are going to have to play disciplined, they have a few guys that can really score on the power play. We are going to need to try and find a way to get the power play advantage.”
Goaltending: Green has always been tight-lipped regarding his goaltending situation and this year is no different. He wouldn’t confirm who will get the nod in goal for Game 1, but you can probably expect to see both Richard Bachman and Joe Cannata between the pipes at some point this series. Regardless, the Comets will need solid goaltending from whoever is in the net if they want to advance to the second round as goals may be tough to come by against Albany. Bachman and Cannata rotated in and out for much of the season. Cannata appeared in 40 games, collecting 20 wins and a .909 SV%, while Bachman registered 17 wins in 35 games along with a .900 SV%.
“I won’t hesitate to play either one of them,” said Green. “If we win Game 1, I may go with the other guy in Game 2 or I may run with just one guy. I have shown confidence in both of them and rightfully so. Both should be confident and I think they are both mature enough to understand that they both can play at any time.”
Points: 48, Alexandre Grenier
Goals: 17, Brendan Gaunce
Assists: 32, Alexandre Grenier
PIMS: 96, Darren Archibald
Shots: 169, Taylor Fedun
Plus/Minus: +17, Andrey Pedan
PPG: 6, Taylor Fedun
Wins: 20, Joe Cannata
GAA: 2.52, Joe Cannata
SV%: .909, Joe Cannata
Shutouts: 2, Joe Cannata