Bottom Dwellers no more! The Utica Comets are officially out of the basement in the AHL Regular Season standings, passing the New York Rangers' affiliate, Hartford Wolfpack, in points after last night's 3-0 victory over the Abbotsford Heat.
Coming into this weekend, the Heat had a 14 point lead over Utica in the Western Conference standings. However, after two straight wins by the Comets at The Aud this week, Abbotsford, who sits in 2nd place in the conference now only leads our team by 10 points.
That's it. Just 10 points or 5 wins separates the Comets from the division leading, 2nd seeded Heat, and it seems that the team has finally hit their stride.
And remember, it's only December, just one and a half months removed from the Comets still looking for their first win, and only a few short weeks from the team struggling to win games at home.
Just like that, like an actual Comet quickly passing through the Earth's orbit, all of the sudden Utica has life, and they are very much in the playoff hunt.
The team just sits 7 points behind the Lake Erie Monsters for the 8th and final playoff spot, and given where they were just two weeks ago, it seems that the gap is closing faster and faster each week.
The Comets have now won three straight games, four out of their last five, and four straight games at home. The team that struggled early on is now cruising, and giving Greater Utica residents something to cheer about each and every night.
It may have taken a few weeks to gel, but that's to be expected. And with the improved play of goaltender Joacim Eriksson, and the sudden surge of offensive firepower, coach Travis Green has the players and the fans believing in what he believed the whole time; that regardless of what their record was, this was a team that could grind it out, and beat any team, and win any game, on any given night.
That confidence that the Head Coach had displayed in his team from the start is finally translating onto the ice, and for that, the holiday season has been quite the thrill ride for Comets fans around the area so far.
Utica owes a large part of its recent success to getting on the board early, something that they struggled to do for the better portion of the early season. In the last three games (all at The Aud), forward Kellen Lain has scored the first goal for the Comets and gotten them on the board quickly to build their momentum.
For Lain, his contributions mean even more for a team that struggled to find the back of the net despite creating plenty of offensive opportunities throughout each game. The forward from Ontario has lit the lamp in each of the last three games, all resulting in Comet wins, and has gotten the crowds into it with the momentum following.
It's such an important feat to get on the board first in a hockey game, and while it does not guarantee you a win necessarily, it certainly helps your case. Especially against a team with a potent offense like Abbotsford, that first goal is key, and for the last two games this week, it has proven to be vital towards Utica's success (it also helps that Eriksson completely shut them down for his 2nd shutout in his AHL career).
And as I've said for the last few posts, while their record is still below .500, it appears that every game is inching closer to getting above that mark. For the ney-sayers out there who believed this team to be a lost cause after one month, this team has had the resiliency to work through it and carry on.
We are now two and a half months into the season and the Comets are one of the hottest teams in the AHL, and have begun their ascent in the standings. With more than a third of the season in the books (27 out of 78 games), the Comets are still very much in it.
With their play of late, if they can keep it up, we may see this team stay in the conversation for a very long time.
Utica doesn't take the ice again until after Christmas, next Friday, when they host the Binghamton Senators. But for now, they head into this short break on a major high point. This is the best hockey we have seen them play this year, and certainly the best that has been played in this area for over 20 years (at the professional level, of course).
So this holiday season, just sit back, relax, and spend time with your families knowing that the Comets are here in full force.
Enjoy experiencing "Life in the fast Lain" with our beloved Comets team, and get ready for quite the ride coming up.
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