The Utica Comets finished their past two seasons on a strong note and will likely need history to repeat itself down the stretch this season if they want to secure a post-season berth for the second straight year.
The Comets finished the second half of their inaugural campaign with a 22-13-3 record, this after starting the season 0-8-2, then finished up last season with a record of 23-11-4, including 15-2-3 in their last 20 games.
Fifteen games into the latter half of this season and so far, so good. The Comets have started the second half of this campaign with an 8-3-2 record, something they can build on with 25 games left as they currently hang onto the final playoff spot in the AHL’s Eastern Conference with a 25-18-8 record.
“I think we can finish strong again this season,” said Comets head coach Travis Green. “I like the way our team has been playing. Our record has been better lately then at the start of the season and I feel like we have made big improvements. I am anxious to see what happens at the trade deadline and how it will affect our team. We will see where we are at roster-wise come Monday.”
Things won’t be easy. The Comets have four straight weekends of playing three games in three days ahead of them, and six overall three-in-three weekends remaining. That’s tough to do in junior hockey, let alone at the pro level, especially when travel is factored in. Utica has done it three times so far this season, and are a combined 2-6-1 on those weekends.
“We are not going to deny that those weekends are hard, especially when you get to the Sunday game,” said Green. “You worry about your guys having energy, which is why it’s so important to play four lines. On those weekends you have to be careful how much you play certain players.”
The Comets will also have to replace the offence of the recently departed Hunter Shinkaruk, who led the team with 21 goals and 39 points through 45 games. As Green says, the Comets have always had a good mix of guys scoring goals, and won’t look to just one person to fill the void.
“We have never been a team that has been led by one or two guys in the scoring department,” said Green. “We have always been a team that has won by committee and won by having four lines play well and having any one of those lines be your best line on any given night. That’s not going to change now.”
Add in the fact that the team may face more adversity if players are called up to the Canucks down the stretch, which is something the Comets have had to deal with all season.
“We have had players called up lots this year; good players off our team,” said Green. “We have always had guys step up and take advantage of new opportunities and I don’t see that changing now. Someone else gets time on the power play and someone will have to take the ball and run. I like the way our leadership is on our team. We had a lot of turnover with veterans from last season, but it has given new opportunities to guys this year and that is all part of it.”
On a positive note, the 2015-16 edition of the Utica Comets may have it in them. They have a good mix of veterans and youth. They have solid goaltending in Joe Cannata and Richard Bachman, and are getting production from their blue line, led by rookie Jordan Subban, who sits third on the team in scoring with 28 points (8-20-28) in 43 games.
“I like his offence,” said Green on Subban. “He has a real knack for getting pucks through to the net from the point. When he is playing well he is up in the rush at the right time. There is a lot to like about his game offensively, but what I do like about him more so is the way he has improved his defensive play, to the point where we don’t have to worry about matchups with him and things like that.”
The Comets are in action on Friday night when they host St. John’s, before traveling to Lehigh Valley on Saturday and closing out the weekend Sunday in Hershey.