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Laval Rocket preview: Start of a big homestand as playoff push continues

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The Canadiens farm team plays seven of their next eight games at Place Bell

Club de Hockey Canadien Inc.

The midpoint of the American Hockey League season has now arrived for the Laval Rocket, and they find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture, but not by a very large margin. Although tied in points with the Utica Comets in points, the Comets have three games in hand for the final playoff spot division.

Top four teams in the division qualify for the playoffs

Overall, Laval’s record of 37 points in 38 games prorates to a 74 point season, which would be among the lowest in the past 10 seasons for the Canadiens AHL farm team, and likely another year without making the playoffs.

The Rocket will have a chance to gain some ground on their competition as they play seven of their next eight games at home, assuming that they can figure out how to use home ice to their advantage. So far this season the Rocket are 7-9-3 at home for a 0.477 record, while they are 8-7-4 on the road for a 0.526 record.

This homestand begins on Wednesday against the Comets, which just so happens to be the team the Rocket chase. The Comets surprised the Rocket last week with a 5-2 win despite being decimated by injuries and call-ups. The Rocket will seek to gain a measure of revenge at the Bell Centre, but will have to do it without Jeremy Gregoire who remains out with a lower body injury.

Besides Gregoire, the only other injured player on the team is Jeremiah Addison, who isn’t expected to return from shoulder surgery until March, practically missing his entire rookie season.

Wednesday’s game against Utica will be the only divisional game for the Rocket this week. On Friday they welcome the Hartford Wolf Pack, the worst team in the Atlantic Division, and on Saturday it’s the best team in the Atlantic’s turn, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Here are a few of the main talking points about the team:

Top line domination

The line of Chris Terry, Adam Cracknell, and Nikita Scherbak has been together for 11 games, and has dominated for the Rocket. Combined, they have put up a stunning 40 points so far. Breaking it down:

  • Adam Cracknell: 6 goals, 4 primary assists, 1 secondary assist, 11 points
  • Nikita Scherbak: 5 goals, 7 secondary assists, 12 points
  • Chris Terry: 5 goals, 9 primary assists, 3 secondary assists, 17 points

The 16 goals that they scored represent 50% of all goals scored by the Rocket in the span that this line has been together. The reason for their success could come down to the chemistry that they have displayed, complimenting each other’s skill sets greatly. Scherbak is charged with entering the offensive zone with speed, where he attempts to attract the defenders, after which he dishes off to Terry who quickly feeds it to Cracknell who receives it while in a high-danger scoring position.

Where else is the scoring coming from?

Defenceman Eric Gélinas appears to have put it all together in recent weeks. He has four goals in the last eight games, and seven goals in total on the season which leads Rocket defencemen. More importantly he tightened down his defensive game and has been paired with the team’s defensive general Matt Taormina on the top pairing for the team. Gélinas has acquitted himself quite well, and admits that the coaches worked extensively with him this season to get him to improve his overall play. It’s clear that the team believes there is potential in Gélinas, and are attempting to groom him in becoming a more complete defenceman.

I’m wondering out loud whether the sudden offensive outburst and defensive awakening will get him noticed for the Canadian Olympic team.

Taormina doesn’t score many goals, but he leads the AHL in assists by a defenceman, to the point where he is tied for most points by a defenceman, 29, with only two goals to his credit on the season. It’s that domination that got him an invitation to the AHL All-Star Classic, along with Terry who is tied for the league lead in scoring.

Where is it not coming from?

Michael McCarron has only scored one goal and added three assists in the past ten games, which could be concerning if you consider he’s a first round draft pick, but it’s important to note that his deployment in the AHL has drastically changed of late.

Whereas before he was being used as a top line centre on an offensive line, he has of late been paired with Yannick Veilleux, Jeremy Grégoire, and Kyle Baun, players counted upon to shutdown opponents top lines. This is a change for the better for McCarron as it matches what his expected role in the NHL would be in the future. Previously he would get called up to the Canadiens with offensive development and struggle in the shutdown role. The redeployment in the AHL is not a case of the Canadiens giving up on McCarron, but rather setting him up better for future success.

Another struggling centre is Daniel Audette who has three goals and an assist in the last 15 games. Audette is having a difficult season overall. He’s been given several opportunities on top lines and has failed to respond. His development continues on the third line, and he will have to show much more in the future to earn a call-up to Montreal. Scoring two goals in the last three games is a start.

Three’s Company in goal

The Laval Rocket has decided to hold on to three goalies for the time being. Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven, and Zachary Fucale are all on the team, which leads to a difficult situation, with practice time being shared amongst goalies, and one is a healthy scratch for each game. Fucale was sent to Brampton for a few games, but ultimately returned. With the Brampton Beast signing Patrick Spano to back-up Andrew D’Agostini, it looks like the plan for the short-term is to keep all three AHL goalies with the Rocket, which is not necessarily the best solution for their development in game play. But a positive to take away from this is that the goaltenders will all have close instruction from Goaltending Development Coach Vincent Riendeau and Goaltending Coach Marco Marciano to rely on. Fucale is the only second round draft pick on the team right now.

Difficult stats for Rocket goaltenders

Where to watch/listen

All Rocket games are broadcast on 91.9 Sports and streamed live on AHLlive.com. Friday’s game is exceptionally being broadcast in English on TSN690 and being shown on RDS in French.

The Wednesday and Friday start time is 7:30pm, but Saturday’s game has a 4:00pm start time.