UTICA — A five-goal third period powered the Utica Comets to a 7-2 win at home against the Rochester Americans Friday night at the Utica Aud.
John Stevens and Jonah Gadjovich each scored twice for Utica, and defenseman Jack Rathbone, in his first game with the Comets, collected three assists in his pro debut.
“Five-on-five I loved our (offensive) zone play,” said Utica head coach Trent Cull after the win. “I really liked our effort.” He said the team started off right and the young players gave a good effort. “I thought we looked great.”
The team got contributions offensively throughout the lineup, with all the even strength goals scored by the second, third and fourth lines. “It’s great for everyone’s confidence,” Cull said. “It’s great to see the depth of our lineup come in. And they didn’t miss a beat.”
The lone goal of the first period was John Stevens’ second of the season. With 4:39 gone in the period, Rathbone fired a one-timer from just inside the blue line that was stopped by Amerks’ goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Stevens corralled the rebound on the doorstep and wired a wrist shot high into the far corner to make it 1-0 Utica. Rathbone and Gadjovich earned assists on the score.
The Comets killed off two penalties almost back-to-back later in the period to keep a one-goal lead going into the first break.
On Rochester’s third power play of the game, they tied the game 1-1. Josh Teves of the Comets was called for hooking at 2:38 of the second period, and six seconds into the man advantage the Amerks got a rebound backhanded tally from Steven Fogarty.
The Comets failed to get a goal on either of two power plays of their own later in the period but it was Stevens at even strength who gave Utica the lead again with 7:06 left in the middle frame. Again he collected a rebound, this time firing a wrist shot from between the faceoff circles that found the back of the net to make it 2-1. Assists on his second goal of the game went to Tanner Kaspick and Will Lockwood.
Fogarty got his second goal of the game as well, a snap shot from the right circle that beat Comets goalie Jon Gillies high to knot the game up at 2-2 with five minutes left in the second period.
Again the Comets took a one-goal lead, this time 5:34 into the third period. Gadjovich took a pass at the right faceoff circle and wired a shot that found the mark to make it 3-2 Comets. Kole Lind and Sven Baertschi earned assists on the goal, Gadjovich’s fifth in six games.
The hosts built a two-goal cushion soon after that. Defenseman Josh Teves got his first goal of the season on a long shot with Curtis McKenzie screening Luukkonen in front. McKenzie and Nolan Stevens were credited with assists. The goal came with 12:45 left in regulation.
With just under 10 minutes left, a Rochester turnover in their own zone trickled to Vincent Arseneau in between the circles. He spun and fired a wrist shot for his first goal of the season, an unassisted score to push Utica’s advantage to three goals at 5-2.
Baertschi scored his first goal of the season with just over four minutes left on the power play. He took a pass from Rathbone and sent a shot through another screen by McKenzie from the left circle. Rathbone and Nolan Stevens were credited with assists. That made it 6-2.
Sixteen seconds later, Gadjovich made it 7-2 on a backhand shot off a rebound on the doorstep. Rathbone, who took the initial shot, earned his third assist of the night.
“Felt it went good. These guys made it really easy. Playing with some good hockey players,” said Rathbone after his pro debut. He hadn’t played a game since he was at Harvard University last March. “Toward the beginning I just tried to get some shots through,” he said, and then he settled in after that.
Utica was outshot 12-10 in the first period but turned that around convincingly, outshooting the Amerks 29-14 the rest of the way.
The Comets scored on one of three power plays while allowing one power play goal in seven chances for Rochester.
Gillies stopped 24 shots to earn the win in net. Luukkonen made 32 saves in taking the loss for Rochester.
Utica improved to 4-1-1 on the season.
The Comets travel to Syracuse to play the Crunch at 7 Saturday night. The lineup might look a little different, as John Stevens exited early in the third period and didn’t return Friday. Whether he plays Saturday night or not, there’s still work to be done to find the right combination of players, Cull said, especially with the number of players getting called up to the NHL of late. “We’ve still got tinkering,” he said. “Not tinkering because I want to.” He added that he liked the lines’ chemistry in the win.
The Comets were without forward Sam Anas, who had been recalled by the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.
Anas had been leading the team in assists (7) and points (7) after five games.