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Lions Bites: Lions right their ship against the listing Admirals

A perfect week by the Lions brings them back up to 0.500.

Lions de Trois-Rivières

The Lions de Trois-Rivières faced the Norfolk Admirals three times last week at the Colisée Vidéotron and accomplished their first sweep of the season, extending their winning streak to four games and moving into a playoff spot.

It is certainly reason to rejoice that the Lions are turning their season around after a slow start. However, Norfolk are the worst team in the league, earning just one win in 12 games prior to facing the Lions, so the challenge for the Lions was really not about beating the Admirals but trying not to beat themselves.

The Lions would need to do it without Brennan Saulnier, who was traded to AHL Belleville for future considerations by the Rocket, after Saulnier was unable to get any ice time in Laval and struggled with the Lions.

In addition, Conner Chaulk and Bradley Johnson remain injured, so they were not back in the line-up.

Wednesday: Lions win 6-3

There was certainly reason for concern for the Lions right at the start of the game as the Admirals were getting more shots and better chances, and if not for some early heroics from Joe Vrbetic, the Admirals could have taken control of the game early.

It was Pierrick Dubé who opened the scoring mid-way in the first period when Alex Breton flipped the puck up ice and Dubé picked it up for a sleek breakaway goal.

The Admirals replied soon after to tie the game, but the Lions' powerplay got to work late in the period when team captain Cédric Montminy drew a crowd and then passed the puck to a wide-open John Parker-Jones who skated into the slot and whipped the puck past Tomas Vomacka to put the Lions up 2-1 after 20.

The Lions were a lot more convincing in the second period, with Dubé scoring his second goal of the game on a powerplay with just enough forward momentum to bounce off Vomacka and trickle into the net to make it 3-1. Norfolk got the luck back midway in the second when a point shot deflected three times before getting past Vrbetic to bring the Admirals back within one.

However, soon after the Admirals displayed why they are last in the league when the Lions got a four-on-one break into the Norfolk zone. Quick passes from Nicolas Guay to Anthony Beauregard to Olivier Galipeau got the puck into the net to make it 4-2 and ended Vomacka’s night of work.

Dubé added a third goal not long after to mark the team’s first hat trick of the season, bringing the score up to 5-2 to end the second period. Needless to say that Dubé responded positively after being a healthy scratch in Florida.

The Lions pounded the Norfolk net with 17 shots in the third period, but backup goaltender Michael Bullion was excellent in relief, stopping everything that came his way. The Admirals got one more goal, an empty-net goal from Riley McKay, as the Lions took the first game 6-3.

Joe Vrbetic made 26 saves for his fourth win of the season.

“In games like this, you will try to cheat more offensively, it’s just human nature,” said head coach Eric Bélanger after the game about giving up too many good scoring chances to the Admirals early in the game. “We will have some adjustments to make”.

Friday: Lions win 6-4

The Lions opened the scoring early in the first period, as Parker-Jones scored his second power-play goal in as many games. Initially, he struggled in the season to find his spot on the team but the experiment to use him in an offensive role on the power play is proving to be pretty successful.

The first period was filled with action, as a total of six goals were scored in the first 20 by both sides to the delight/freight of the nearly 3,000 fans in attendance.

Despite giving up the first goal, the Admirals struck twice on Vrbetic to take a 2-1 lead, showing that despite being last in the league, they certainly will capitalize on opportunities when presented.

One player who has been very quiet for the Lions so far this season is Montminy. He has been all but invisible for the Lions after serving a five-game suspension, but this game was really his coming out party, scoring his first two goals of the season for a three-point night and doubling his production thus far in the season.

Montminy also scored the go-ahead goal for the Lions on their second power-play goal of the night to give the Lions the lead 3-2 and Dubé scored another on a play orchestrated by Colin Bilek to give the Lions a two-goal cushion.

The teams traded power-play goals to end the second period, with Ryan Francis scoring the 5-3 goal, one that he badly needed after cooling down significantly after a great start to the season.

The Lions played with fire in the third period, with the Admirals pressing for the comeback. First, they scored on a powerplay to bring the score to 5-4, then were on the powerplay yet again moments later when McKay took a double-minor for roughing. Thankfully Francis Thibeault’s zone clearance turned into a shorthanded empty-net goal to give the Lions the two-goal lead back and wrap up the second game with another win.

Saturday: Lions win 5-0

With Philippe Desrosiers injured, third-string goaltender Thomas Sigouin got his first professional start with the Lions, and it could not have been an easier trial by fire than this game.

Unlike the first two games of this series where they showed determination in a losing effort, the Admirals simply did not show up to this game for the first two periods, registering just three shots in the first period, and two shots in the second. Needless to say that the prolonged losing streak on a never-ending road trip all of November had done its damage to this team’s resolve.

Still, despite a total lack of offense by the Admirals, at least Tomas Vomacka did his best to keep the team in the game, repelling all 12 shots he faced in the first period. But it was the second period, the most dominant 20 minutes played by the Lions this season by far, where the damage was entirely done.

The Lions fired off 21 shots in this period, scoring on four of them, starting with yet another powerplay goal by Parker-Jones and assisted by Brett Stapley who returned from injury.

This first goal opened the floodgates, as Nicolas Larivière went on to score a few moments later, followed by a breakaway by the speedy McKay to make it 3-0.

Jonathan Joannette scored his first of the season to bring the second-period massacre to a close at 4-0.

The final goal was scored midway in the third period with the help of sudden power-play specialist Parker-Jones, who could have taken a shot, but instead laser-wired a perfect cross-crease pass to Montminy to make it 5-0.

I’m Watching You...

  • There could be some big changes to the Lions' line-up. Laval Rocket head coach Jean-Francois Houle mentioned that there are several players who are not getting a chance to play because of how deep the team is so they may be loaned to the Lions. Most likely candidates include defenceman Alex Green and forward Jan Mysak, both of whom have struggled to establish themselves.
  • Injured players include Philippe Desrosiers, Conner Chaulk, Anthony Beauregard, and Bradley Johnson. Pierrick Dubé was placed on the team’s injured reserve, meaning that he will miss the next 14 days at least. A real shame since he was heating up so much.
  • John Parker-Jones put up five points last week. He had one lonely point to that point of the season.

Also:

  • Justin Ducharme, who spent the majority of last season with the Lions on an AHL deal with the Rocket, has not had a great start to the season with the AHL Texas Stars and has now been assigned to the ECHL Idaho Steelheads.
  • The Lions travel west next week to face the Utah Grizzlies for the first time ever. They will play a tough three games in three nights schedule — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The most recognizable name on the Grizzlies for the casual fan will be Victor Bartley, the player who came to the Montreal Canadiens as part of the infamous John Scott trade.
NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports