Following a tough loss on Friday night at Place Bell, the Rocket were back on the ice for a 3:00 PM rematch with the Utica Comets, looking to earn a series split. Laval limited Utica to just 14 total shots in the first game, but surrendered three goals in the process, making it a tough way to drop a contest.
After Michael McNiven got the start on Friday, Charlie Lindgren was between the pipes on Saturday afternoon. Opposite him was Thatcher Demko for the Comets.
It was the first AHL start for Charlie Lindgren since November 1, as he was on recall in Montreal and eventually took over the starting duties with Carey Price injured.
The first period was generally controlled by the Rocket, but it was the Comets who got on the scoreboard first on only their second shot of the game.
Nikolay Goldobin snagged the puck out of a scrum along the boards with speed and the play developed quickly. Goldobin passed the puck to Patrick Wiercioch, who dropped the puck back directly to Alex D’Aoust’s stick before starting to circling behind the net. D’Aoust was momentarily left open by Yannick Veilleux who turned to play the pass, and the Comets forward snapped the puck past Lindgren.
The Rocket got 14 shots off on Demko, who was solid, but didn’t really have to make any spectacular saves. The shots he faced were mostly slapshots from outside the ‘home plate’ area for dangerous shots, with the best tries coming from Antoine Waked, Jordan Boucher, Jeremy Grégoire, and Tom Parisi. The Rocket held the Comets to only three shots during the entire period.
Tom Parisi is developing nicely into a speedy defensive skater for the #Rocket. Here he is taking a pass from Brett Lernout, skating quickly up the ice and taking a shot from the top of the circle. pic.twitter.com/f3hYAx7FNK— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) November 26, 2017
Laval continued to dominate the play in the second period, but the special teams let them down, especially during a five-on-three power play. The Rocket not only failed to take advantage of th chance, but almost gave up a breakaway when Matt Taormina dove to try to hold the zone but essentially gave an open lane to a Comet defender to stride in on Lindgren.
The second period was more of the same from the Rocket, who despite controlling the shots failed to generate many scoring threats from up close. The majority of the shots were from the periphery, rarely challenging Demko.
Peter Holland probably had the best shot for the Rocket, when he went around Comet defender Jordan Subban, and cut in front of the net, but Demko made the save.
Peter Holland had the best chance for the #Rocket in the second period when he went around Jordan Subban and challenged Thatcher Demko, but otherwise a quiet game (and week-end) for Holland and the rest of the top line, Carr and Terry. pic.twitter.com/6ii4oKjSuf— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) November 26, 2017
Even with their limited shots on net, the Comets were the more dangerous side to open the period, with a pair of high-danger chances that required massive saves from Lindgren to keep the Utica lead at just one.
Despite a major shot advantage, eerily similar to the game the night before, the Rocket struggled to truly threaten Demko through 40 minutes. With 26 shots through the first two periods, the Rocket seemed almost guaranteed to break through in the final frame, and they would finally do just that at around the midway point.
The Rocket broke through on their 34th shot of the game. Daniel Audette tied his man up on the faceoff drop, and the puck shifted towards Grégoire, who kicked at the puck. Michael McCarron picked up the loose puck and sniped a shot past Demko to finally tie the game at one goal apiece.
Intermission AHL goals!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 26, 2017
The first of Michael McCarron's goals today against Utica. pic.twitter.com/wnHLzTIDJQ
From there followed a weird bit of hockey providence for the Rocket, as a mental lapse from Demko gifted them their second goal of the game, just seven seconds after their first.
Grégoire dumped the puck into the Utica zone after the centre-ice faceoff, and Demko misplayed it entirely. McCarron hustled hard into the zone and beat the Comets netminder to the loose puck, shoveling home his second goal of the game to give Laval a much-deserved lead.
Then McCarron's second of the day, just seven seconds after his first one. pic.twitter.com/SKbolHjwUj— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 26, 2017
Luck is a double-edged sword however, and once again this fact came back to bite the Rocket where it hurts the most. With victory seemingly in hand, a defensive breakdown in an empty-net situation gave Reid Boucher the space he needed to tie the game with 43 seconds left on the clock.
The Comets won the faceoff, and with a quick cycle found Boucher wide open at the top of the circle, and from there he buried the tying goal and secured at least a single point for Utica.
Three-on-three overtime solved nothing, so it came down to a shootout to determine the victor in the contest.
Jayson Megna scored first on Lindgren, while Holland was stymied by Demko in the first round. Chris Terry got the Rocket on the board in the shootout with a gorgeous backhand goal, but he was equaled by Boucher as well. The game then fell on the stick of Daniel Audette, who failed to put the puck past Demko, dealing the Rocket another defeat, a 3-2 decision, in division play.
The top line of Daniel Carr, Peter Holland, and Chris Terry was very disappointing in both games against the Comets, getting zero points. It’s unclear if Terry is possibly playing injured still or not, but at even strength he has been a relative non-factor for several games in a row.
Sylvain Lefebvre might be best served by reuniting Terry and Carr with McCarron on the top line, as the behemoth forward can open up space for the goal-scoring duo on the wings.
The loss means that the Rocket have now lost five games in a row, collecting only two points in that span from two shootout losses. After a strong start to the season that seemed to indicate a change in fortunes for the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, they are now dangerously close to falling to the .500 mark on the season.
Their collected points in overtime and shootout losses are keeping the Rocket just barely ahead of the Belleville Senators in the North Division, while their inability to collect two points with regularity has seen them drop behind Rochester and into third place. As it stands right now, Laval is clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of the Hershey Bears and the aforementioned Senators.
The Rocket are now off on a three-game road trip, playing in Belleville on Wednesday, then off to Syracuse on Friday and Lehigh Valley on Saturday. Much like this past week, two games against divisional rivals will be key matchups.