On Saturday afternoon, the Laval Rocket played the AHL-leading Toronto Marlies for a second time in less than 24 hours. After Friday’s Teddy Bear Toss night, yesterday’s theme was Star Wars night.
Winless since November 15 at home, the Rocket were hoping to win for the first time in six games in front of their fans, but alas it would be a sixth loss in a row at Place Bell, and a 10th loss in 11 games for a Habs’ farm team in the midst of a very familiar collapse for anyone who has followed the team prior to its arrival in Laval.
With Michael McCarron remaining out due to last week’s ear injury, the Rocket shuffled their forward lines, using 11 forwards with a last-minute scratch of David Broll in favour of a seventh defenceman, Simon Bourque. The move itself simply served to force forwards to double shift against the powerhouse Marlies, as Bourque was very seldom used during the course of the game.
The first period was played carefully by both teams to start, with neither team wanting to make the first mistake. The Rocket were especially careful to start the game correctly and not continue from where they left off after Friday’s disastrous third period.
The Rocket fell into their usual habit of taking an early penalty, with Matt Taormina going off for an interference call three minutes into the game. Ironically, it led to the best opportunity of the period for the Rocket. Kyle Baun intercepted a Marlies blue-line pass in his own zone and took off on an odd-man rush with Niki Petti, who received a clean pass from Baun, and deked out Marlies starter Calvin Pickard with a forehand-to-backhand move, but just missed the open net.
The Marlies also came close when Dmytro Timashov hit the post right off a faceoff win, unleashing a wicked wrist shot that Michael McNiven never even had a chance to react on.
The first period ended with no score, and the Rocket having a slight advantage in shots, 8-6.
The second period started poorly for the Rocket who watched Marlies leading-scorer Andreas Johnsson simply go around Tom Parisi and then pop the puck over Michael McNiven to give the Marlies the 1-0 lead at just over a minute in.
Andreas Johnsson scores a great goal by completely passing by Tom Parisi and then roofing it over Michael McNiven. 1-0 Marlies early in the 2nd. pic.twitter.com/aY9zZvvSYx— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 9, 2017
Kyle Baun took his second penalty of the game shortly afterward, which served to give the Marlies all of the momentum and threatened to send the Rocket reeling.
But the Rocket fought back in a disciplined manner, and Chris Terry, invisible up until this moment, managed to tie up the game by taking a shot from an impossible angle. Terry ended up with eight shots on net, just short of half of all the Rocket’s shots in the game.
GOAL ROCKET! Chris Terry finds a minuscule gap in Pickard's coverage just above his shoulder from an impossible angle. 1-1. pic.twitter.com/9SrwPWiNqn— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 9, 2017
McNiven fought as best as he could to keep his team in the game in the second period. Kasperi Kapanen had two rapid breakaways one after another, but McNiven was able to stop both, keeping the game tied.
But the Marlies were just too strong, opening the floodgates in the second period.
First, Jeremy Bracco scored his first AHL goal on a gorgeous individual effort.
Sick goal by Jeremy Bracco. His first AHL goal apparently. 2-1 for the Marlies 14 minutes into the second period. #Rocket pic.twitter.com/2nA47yNLxJ— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 9, 2017
Immediately after this goal, Yannick Veilleux, who was demoted down to the fourth line for the game, took a boarding penalty. It was the fourth of seven minor penalties taken by the Rocket in this game as discipline continues to be a problem for the team. The Rocket briefly gave their fans hope that they were still in this game when Niki Petti scored the Rocket’s first short-handed goal since October 28th, tying the game at 2-2.
GOAL ROCKET!!! Niki Petti with a shorthanded goal assisted by Leblanc. 2-2 pic.twitter.com/B1zUoevhLL— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 9, 2017
It didn’t remain tied for long, as Toronto capitalized on two quick power-play goals to send the game out of reach for the punchless Rocket.
Frederik Gauthier scored immediately following the Petti goal.
Immediately following the Petti goal, The Marlies score a powerplay goal. 3-2 Marlies. pic.twitter.com/L1FzPtufaZ— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 9, 2017
Then while the Rocket were purging a penalty for too many men on the ice, Kapanen finally scored a deserved goal after being the hardest-working Marlies player all game.
(MERCY~!) Kapanen scores another PP goal for the Marlies. It's 4-2 against the #Rocket with 2 minutes left in the second period. pic.twitter.com/aK5Lz3f6z7— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 9, 2017
McNiven ended up giving up four goals on 14 shots by the Marlies in the second period while the Rocket only managed six shots on net. McNiven would not cede again, stopping a total of 27 shots directed at him.
The Rocket were even more punchless in the third period, getting only five pucks on the net of Calvin Pickard, who only faced 19 shots on the night.
In an ugly incident in the third period, Daniel Audette was ejected from the game for elbowing Travis Dermott in the head. The Rocket killed the ensuing power play, but the Marlies eventually put the finishing touches on a weekend sweep by scoring into an empty net for a 5-2 victory.
The Rocket don’t play again for a week when they travel to Charlotte to face the Checkers twice. Hopefully the Rocket will be able to count on McCarron’s return by then as this team is in serious need of an injection of talent to be able to compete with the better teams in the AHL.
Discipline remains a major problem for the Rocket as they have the third-most short-handed minutes in the league, combined with their second-worst penalty kill giving up the most power-play goals. There is no situation where this is a good thing, and it’s just one cause of their problems.
Overall, the Rocket have given up the most goals in the league (97 goals against in 27 games) and drop out of a playoff spot with a points percentage of 0.481, dropping below Utica at 0.500.
It was Star Wars night at the Bell Centre on this night, but the Force was definitely ot strong with Rocket. Depleted by call-ups to Montreal, Laval is simply not a team that can compete in the AHL right now.
Despite all the early promise of a deep and talented team, the Rocket are now limping along, filled with desire to succeed but lacking the sufficient experience and talent to make it happen.