Coming off the heels of a massive 3-1 win in Rochester on Wednesday night, the Laval Rocket rolled into Belleville to clash with the Senators in another crucial North Division game. After Charlie Lindgren delivered a standout performance against the Americans, it would be the rookie Michael McNiven who was between the pipes for the Rocket. Opposite him was none other than the Hamburglar, Andrew Hammond, for the Senators.
The opening nine minutes saw both sides trading chances from outside the prime scoring areas. Of the Sens’ six shots early on, the most dangerous came on a wraparound from Colin White which forced McNiven to slide and take away the open part of his net. An Ethan Werek hooking call sent the Rocket to the man advantage, and from there it would be a lopsided domination by Laval on the shot clock. Even a Niki Petti penalty yielded nothing for the Sens’ counterattack.
Then Petti stepped out of the box, collected a puck. and broke in down the wing, snapping a shot past Hammond to open the scoring for the Rocket at 6:24 of the first period.
Niki Petti comes out of his cage and he's doin' just fine as he opens the scoring for the Rocket! pic.twitter.com/DQmrZngXzx— World Juniors Scort (@scottmatla) December 29, 2017
A Max McCormick penalty for hooking put the Senators on the penalty kill again, and the Rocket power play found a new gear to start burying their chances. Tom Parisi and Daniel Audette moved the puck around the zone, before Parisi picked out Eric Gelinas high in the offensive zone. Gelinas uncorked his trademark cannon of a shot and put the Rocket up 2-0, and increasing the pressure on Belleville to scratch their way into the game.
Eric Gelinas with an absolute bomb on the power play makes it 2-0 Laval.— World Juniors Scort (@scottmatla) December 29, 2017
Great puck movement by Tom Parisi to help set this one up. pic.twitter.com/TYL1juOWXs
The Senators got their chance late in the period with Chris Terry headed to the box for tripping. A flurry of chances in a goalmouth scramble gave the Sens their best chances of the game to that point, but the rookie McNiven was more than up to the task.
With the power play carrying over into the second frame, the Senators had a major chance to derail the Rocket momentum, especially against a penalty kill that has struggled mightily this season. The special teams unit held strong against the heavy pressure, and the Rocket pushed the play back against Belleville. A massive hit by Patrick Sieloff on Adam Cracknell provided a temporary boost for the Senators, but not enough to solve McNiven or the Rocket defence.
Then an innocuous turnover in the Belleville end turned into the third Rocket goal of the game. Gabriel Gagne failed to clear the puck out, and Kyle Baun snatched the errant puck up and fired a shot in on Hammond. The Sens netminder kicked a rebound out in front of him and Jordan Boucher poked the puck over to the uncovered Baun, who buried his third goal of the year and seemingly put Laval ahead for good.
Kyle Baun gets his third goal of the year, really nice set up by Jordan Boucher, and great finish from Baun. pic.twitter.com/mCDuUVLILJ— World Juniors Scort (@scottmatla) December 29, 2017
Another Belleville penalty once again derailed any counterattack the Senators had working for them, and gave the Rocket power play another chance to add to their already sizable lead. Then it was Jack Rodewald off for hooking, and just four minutes later Chris DiDomenico sat for slashing, the parade of penalties continued to hamper any potential offence the Senators could muster.
In spite of their continual penalties, the Senators did finally break through before the second period ended. After a pair of roughing minors to Michael McCarron and Tyler Randell, it was Jim O’Brien who finally broke McNiven’s shutout bid with less than two minutes left on the clock.
McCormick fed the puck out in front and O’Brien atoned for his earlier penalty to finally get the Senators on the board, and stop the Rocket onslaught before the end of the second period.
An early third period penalty by Antoine Waked gave the Senators another chance to claw back into the game. A suddenly stingy Laval penalty kill held Belleville long enough to draw a penalty of their own on a short-handed break. Jordan Murray was guilty of holding Petti as the Rocket forward cut across the offensive zone.
With Waked out of the box, the Rocket went back on the man advantage, and again it was Gelinas who delivered what turned out to be a crucial goal for Laval. Chris Terry won the faceoff cleanly back to Matt Taormina, and Taormina quickly passed off to Gelinas who let another howitzer of a shot fly, notching his second goal of the game.
Eric Gelinas is very good at one specific thing, and that's using his slap shot to score goals.— World Juniors Scort (@scottmatla) December 29, 2017
This is his sixth of the year. pic.twitter.com/oC1mdGFr0u
Things nearly came undone after the Rocket’s fourth goal of the game, made even worse by the fact that Laval had just three shots on net in final 10 minutes of the game.
With 11 minutes gone, a loose puck in front of the Laval net, and a lack of attention to said puck, led to McCormick burying the second Senators goal of the game.
This defense on Belleville's second goal is Alzner-esque pic.twitter.com/f9Cgd2aHhm— World Juniors Scort (@scottmatla) December 29, 2017
Then an extremely ill-timed penalty by Simon Bourque sent Belleville back to the power play with just over six minutes remaining, and put the Rocket back on their heels. The Senators would take full advantage of their power play, scoring just eight seconds into their man advantage.
Jordan Murray let a shot fly from the point, and after making the initial save, McNiven was unable to find the puck, and Jack Rodewald slammed it home to cut Laval’s lead down to just a single goal, despite the Rocket’s early dominance in the game.
The Senators did most of the work down the final stretch for Laval, however. Werek took another poorly timed tripping penalty, and allowed the dominant Rocket power play to chew up the remaining time on the clock. A run of icing calls against the Senators force Hammond to stay in his net longer than intended, and the pressure from the Rocket never allowed him to leave. When he did finally make it to the bench, the only Belleville shot was blocked, and the Rocket now find themselves on a two game win streak after posting the 4-3 victory.
Laval now heads back to Rochester for a Saturday night showdown with the Americans after their 3-1 victory on Wednesday. That will be the end of the Rocket’s 2017 season. The team is off for the new year, and will then be back in action January 3 against the Toronto Marlies.
1. Eric Gelinas (2G)
2. Max McCormick (1G)
3. Michael McNiven (W, 23 Saves)