UTICA – The Comets need to be better.

A series of rough starts, miscues and missed opportunities have left the Utica Comets (5-6-0-1 overall) with a “bad taste” in their mouths after finishing with three out of a possible 10 points during a five-game homestand.

That’s not the outcome the Comets wanted in their first five games at the revamped Adirondack Bank Center at Utica Memorial Auditorium.

“We didn’t get the results we were hoping for,” Comets captain Carter Bancks said Monday. “We have to move on. We can’t dwell on the past. … We’re excited for this week and we’ll work to get back on track.”

On Monday that work included a physical one-on-one drill at the end of an hour-long practice where both nets were stationed near the goal line and the boards. The drill was aimed at raising the intensity level while also taking away space in tight areas.

There’s a focus on playing a tighter defensive game, Ashton Sautner said.

“There’s a lot of those (battles) in a game. We maybe lost too many of those lately,” said Sautner, who has played in each of the Comets’ 12 games this season. “So, I think coach (Trent Cull) is trying to focus on bringing that compete (level) to Wednesday night.”

That’s when the Comets make the first of three visits this month to North Division opponent Laval before hosting Belleville on Friday and Hartford on Saturday) as part of a three-game homestand.

The team knows early-season points are important, especially after last season when the Comets finished three points shy of the AHL playoffs. Utica got a boost last weekend when goaltender Thatcher Demko (4-2-1, 1.85 goals-against average) and forward Reid Boucher (3 goals-7 assists in 10 games) returned after stints with the parent Vancouver Canucks.

“Our compete level has to be better,” said Cull, whose team is 4-3-0-0 on the road this season. “If you’re not winning at home … there’s not a lot you’re resting your hat on. We need to be better. Our execution can be better, there’s no doubt about that. … The compete-level has to be raised.”

The Comets were outscored 23-11 in the five home games. They are averaging 31.25 shots per game — 10th in the AHL — but just 2.67 goals per game, 26th in the league.

Cull said the team has to be better in the neutral zone and get the puck to the net to create more opportunities. Nikolay Goldobin leads the team with six goals and 14 points. Six players have two goals and seven others have scored once.

“We’re going to need all 20 guys to be engaged,” Bancks said. “We have to be able to respond if we have a bad shift and bounce right back.”

Woods signs AHL deal

Brendan Woods' family in the Utica area will have more chances to see him play. That's because the Comets announced Monday evening the 25-year-old gritty center has been signed to an American Hockey League deal, which replaces his professional tryout contract. Woods' mom, Mary Sue Vance Woods, graduated from now-closed JFK High School. His dad, Bob, played for the Utica Devils.

The 6-3, 222-pound Woods, who had been on a professional tryout contract with the team, has played in 201 total AHL games and provides experience and depth at center. Woods has played in six games with the Comets after five seasons with the Charlotte Checkers.

Woods, who hasn't played since Nov. 3 when he injured his shoulder in a collision with Darren Archibald while driving to the net against Binghamton, left Monday’s practice in obvious discomfort. Cull didn’t have an update after practice.

Roll call

The Comets have some lingering injury issues.

Archibald, who left early in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Charlotte after an awkward legal check along the boards, “is still getting things checked out, and we’ll see how that goes,” Cull said Monday. The 27-year-old Archibald, who appeared to be talking with people following Friday’s game, has an upper-body injury, Cull said. No timeline has been announced on Archibald’s return.

Veteran Wacey Hamilton remains out with a lower-body injury. Hamilton, who has three assists in six games, hasn’t played since Nov. 1.

“Not having (Archibald) hurts us. Wacey Hamilton (out hurts), too,” Bancks said. “They’re good veteran players who bring consistent efforts every night.”

Michael Carcone (extended absence due to illness) practiced Monday, giving the Comets 14 healthy forwards.

Garteig to Kalamazoo

With Demko back from the Canucks, goaltender Michael Garteig was sent back to Kalamazoo, the organization’s ECHL affiliate.

The 25-year-old Garteig spent about a week with the Comets, but didn’t appear in any games during the team’s homestand. He appeared in eight games with the Comets last season.

In two starts with Kalamazoo this season, Garteig is 2-0-0 with a .903 save percentage and a 3.50 goals against average.

Contact reporter Ben Birnell at 315-792-5032 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Birnell).