By all accounts, the Laval Rocket entered the month of November in fairly good standing. They were third in the division, with a 5-3-2 record, had their offence clicking on all cylinders, and even with two of their stars recalled they continued to play decently.
They even started November extremely well, going 4-2-0 in their first six games, dropping decisions to only the conference-leading Toronto Marlies and a resurgent Springfield Thunderbirds team.
From there, they collapsed in epic proportions going 0-4-2 to end the month, including an embarrassing defensive effort in overtime against the Belleville Senators to close out the month.
The good news is that the offence is still clicking along. Their 73 goals rank as third-best in the AHL, and they’re doing it without Byron Froese, Martin Réway, and Nikita Scherbak.
The bad news is that they’ve also allowed an AHL-worst 82 goals, and none of their goalies has a goals-against average below 3.00 or a save percentage over .900 right now.
North Division Standings
The Réway Saga comes to a close
Martin Réway has been a fascinating story in recent years: an extremely talented forward who left the QMJHL to return to Europe to play professionally, and provide for his family. He was then set to return to North America last year, and suit up for the St. John’s IceCaps, and fans were abuzz. Many remember his heroics in helping Slovakia win a bronze medal at the World Juniors tournament in Montreal.
That’s when things took a turn for the worse, as he missed the entire season due to a serious health issue, and it was unclear if he’d ever play hockey again. All credit to him, he came over to Montreal once again, admitting to not being fully in playing shape, and pushed himself through the grueling process.
He had a few nice moments in the Rookie Tournament, and had a decent amount of production in his time for the Laval Rocket in the AHL.
Then the news broke that he would be taking time away, before following that up by going on unconditional waivers, having his entry-level contract terminated, and returning back to Europe to play in the KHL.
It’s a sad end for a highly promising prospect, but the main hope is that being closer to home brings Réway a bit of peace, and that he can remain healthy going forward.
Matt Taormina continues to dominate
There’s not much else Matt Taormina can do to improve on this season for the Laval Rocket. Not only was he the team’s leading scorer at the end of November with 20 points (two goals, 18 assists), he also sat atop the AHL scoring list for defencemen. He’s making a serious case for another Eddie Shore Award as the best defencemen in the AHL, and without him the state of the Rocket blue line is not a pretty prospect.
While it’s highly likely that Taormina will continue to anchor the defence for Laval and not see the NHL, that’s likely for the best. He’s a veteran presence who can help guide the young prospects like Noah Juulsen or Simon Bourque as they adjust to the professional game.
It’s a lofty comparison, but watching the smart little plays that Taormina makes reminds me of long-time Habs defender Andrei Markov. They aren’t nearly the same level of player, but the way Taormina runs the power play is a big reason why the Laval Rocket have the fifth-ranked power-play unit in the entire AHL.
Lack of discipline continues to plague the team
While the man advantage chugs along and scores seemingly at will for the Rocket, they continue to shoot themselves in the foot due to their lack of discipline. As of the end of November, the Rocket have been short-handed 107 times (third-most in the AHL), and given up 26 power-play goals (most in the league). Their 29th-ranked penalty kill is undoing all of the hard work the offence does, and with their goalies struggling already, the lack of a solid penalty kill is neutering their best efforts.
Watching the system work — or not work as the case may be — it’s becoming very apparent where the issue lies. The Rocket give up the blue line, collapse back toward the net, and often screen their netminder in the process. From there, with the forwards not pushing up high on the pointmen, opposing teams have freedom to move, and find an open lane. Once they do that, there’s typically a screen in place, and a goal soon follows.
If the Rocket want to get out of this downward spiral the first thing they have to do is fix this penalty killing travesty. Allowing teams what is almost becoming a free goal is killing their chances of winning games, and even a slight improvement can likely lead to some more wins in the standings.
1st Star: Daniel Carr: 12 GP, 6 G, 3 A
There really isn’t anything more the Rocket could have asked of Daniel Carr this season. All he’s done is produce offence at an astounding rate, and had been passed over twice for a call-up he rightfully deserved.
Thankfully, Carr was recalled after scoring his team-leading 12th goal of the year in a 3-2 overtime loss to Belleville on November 29, and he immediately earned a power play assist against Detroit.
To put Carr’s dominance into context, only one player is ahead of him in the AHL goal-scoring race: Danick Martel of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who has 14 goals. With the former Union College star on recall, the Rocket will very much need someone to step up and replace his production.
Holy woah, what a rip by Daniel Carr for his 12th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/Gw2Jul8M1B— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 30, 2017
2nd Star: Jeremy Grégoire: 12 GP, 2 G, 6 A
Not known for his point production through two years of professional hockey, Grégoire had his undisputed best month since finishing his time in the QMJHL.
Primarily known for his defensive play, and hard-nosed style, he was a constant presence on the fourth line for St. John’s last year, and to start this year in Laval. However, through a combination of injuries and call-ups, Grégoire soon found himself playing up in the lineup, and began to show why he was considered a smart pick in his draft year.
He still crashes and bangs around the net, and has no issue getting physical. But he has been combining that with an offence-focused game, and with six assists in the month of November, he’s developing into quite the playmaker.
With Carr now on recall in Montreal, Grégoire may have a real chance to stake his claim as a top player in Laval.
What a play by McCarron to get the puck to the net while falling down.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 18, 2017
Gregoire finishes to make it 4-2. pic.twitter.com/xWQWOXBXCB
3rd Star: Peter Holland: 12GP, 5 G, 6 A
Alas, poor Peter, we knew him well.
After just two months, Peter Holland is no longer with the team, as he was shipped out to the Hartford Wolf Pack for Adam Cracknell in a trade on the last day of November.
Holland leaves after an impressive showing on the scoresheet, with five goals and six assists in 12 games for the Rocket, including a hat trick against Syracuse. Despite his presence on the scoresheet, there were many nights where he didn’t make himself noticeable on the ice; he’d collect a point or score a late goal, but he’d never truly stand out.
His prolific month left him tied for third in scoring on the team with Chris Terry, and just two points behind Matt Taormina’s team-leading 20 points. He’s leaves a big hole in the lineup, and while Cracknell brings a veteran game, he doesn’t have the same offensive skills.
Thankfully Nikita Scherbak is due for a return in December, and one of Byron Froese and Nicolas Deslauriers should be headed back to the AHL soon as well.
And Peter Holland makes it three goals in two minutes for the Rocket in Springfield! pic.twitter.com/lEx7OsfZCb— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 12, 2017
Jakub Jerabek gets the nod this month for a strong November on the Laval blue line. With one goal and five assists, Jerabek created plenty of chance for his teammates from his defensive position, and finally tallied his first North American goal in a win over the Syracuse Crunch.
His strong play netted him a call-up to the Montreal Canadiens where he’s impressed everyone with his smart offensive instincts, and solid defensive composure against the highest level of competition.
Jakub Jerabek turns the puck over, then makes an outstanding defensive play to bail himself out. pic.twitter.com/YFRgSfw512— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 26, 2017
With Shea Weber out, Jerabek has been thrust right into the fire for the Habs, and with his strong response, it’s hard to see him leaving the lineup anytime soon.