The Laval Rocket were looking to rebound after a 5-1 loss to the Utica Comets on Wednesday night. It was their fourth loss in five meetings with their division rival.
Following a goal from Chris Terry, the Comets reeled off five unanswered goals, including three in the opening period. Adding to Laval’s penalty killing woes, three of Utica’s goals were on the man advantage.
Through Wednesday night's games, the Rocket had the league's worst penalty kill at 76.2% while allowing a league-worst 43 power-play goals.
Chris Terry sat out Friday night's game with a lower body injury. The All-Star forward scored his 19th of the season for Laval in the loss on Wednesday and entered Friday tied for the league lead in goals and as the outright leader in points with 41.
Even without Terry in the lineup, the Rocket jumped out to a lead early in the game, just 26 seconds in. Former Wolf Pack player Adam Cracknell continued his incredible run of form with a formidable drive to the net, finishing it with a gorgeous backhand for his 11th goal of the year.
RELEASE THE CRACKNELL!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 13, 2018
Adam Cracknell goes top shelf from in close to make it 1-0 Laval. pic.twitter.com/KrczjoxI4j
Even after the goal, the Rocket pushed for a second shortly after, with the duo of Kyle Baun and Michael McCarron testing Marek Mazanec with a number of close chances.
Just past the midway point of the period. the Rocket would find twine once more, thanks in large part to a pair of penalties by Scott Kosmachuk and John Gilmour. The ensuing five-on-three was down to the final five seconds when the Laval power play finally broke through. Matt Taormina fed Nikita Scherbak, and Scherbak fired a perfect pass across the zone to Eric Gelinas, who had all day to wire home his eighth goal of the year.
Nikita Scherbak threads a perfect pass to Eric Gelinas, who fires home his 8th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/Is6kJXvkXu— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 13, 2018
A heavy scramble around the net nearly let the Wolf Pack back into the game. With Zachary Fucale losing sight of the puck, his defender bailed him out by clearing the puck out of the zone. Hartford pressing late in the period, forcing Thomas Ebbing flipped the puck out of play, sending Laval to a penalty kill with under four minutes left in the period.
A sloppy icing call on the Wolf Pack gave the Rocket an offensive-zone draw late in their penalty kill, and they took full advantage of it. Daniel Audette won the draw straight to Cracknell, who fired home his 12th goal of the year, and second of the night.
Second goal of the game for Cracknell, this time shorthanded after a perfect face-off win by Daniel Audette. pic.twitter.com/9rfjoTayDX— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 13, 2018
Hartford nearly got on the board in the dying seconds of the opening period, with a rocket of a shot beating Fucale, but bouncing away harmlessly off the post.
The luck would immediately be in favour of the Wolf Pack to open the second, as 35 seconds in they finally solved Fucale. Cole Schneider brought the puck in deep, and while nearly below the goal line he let a shot go that somehow found it’s way in behind Fucale, and it trickled in for a goal.
Joe Whitney nearly added another goal a few minutes later. The winger entered the Rocket zone and from the top of the circle let a wrist shot fly. Fucale got a piece of it, but the puck slowly trickled toward the goal line, and only some great awareness from Markus Eisenschmid saved a likely goal.
A potential Rocket power play was nullified almost immediately when Cracknell was whistled for slashing. At four-on-four Noah Juulsen made his presence felt. Ryan Sproul went to exit his own end, and discovered too late that Juulsen had him lined up for a monster hit.
Noah Juulsen knocks Ryan Sproul into next week with a monster hit. pic.twitter.com/RCpbrxI7PP— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 13, 2018
With Cracknell still sitting in the box, Hartford had an abbreviated power play, and that’s all they needed. Sproul, who was plenty fine after taking the hit, broke in on the wing and from an extreme angle squeaked a goal through Fucale to make it a one-goal game.
The Wolf Pack gave Laval a golden opportunity to further their lead a few minutes later, as Brandon Crawley got the gate for slashing late in the period. It was Scherbak acting as the catalyst once again on the man advantage, this time patiently waiting with the puck until he found a perfect seam. He fired a no-look pass to Taormina who ended his goalless drought with a laser of a shot, making it a 4-2 game.
Excellent power play work by Nikita Scherbak again, waits for his lane to open up and he find Matt Taormina for his third goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/5hoN6PjTap— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 13, 2018
Not much of note happened until nearly halfway through the third period, with both sides failing to make much headway in the opposing zone. Then penalty issues reared their head for the Rocket in the worst way, with Yannick Veilleux taking a seat after an incredible save by Fucale, with Gelinas called for high-sticking shortly afterward.
What followed was a flawless performance by the five-on-three penalty-killing unit of Juulsen, Stefan Leblanc, and Cracknell. The trio gave Hartford next to no clean looks, while Fucale gobbled up any pucks that made it to the net. With both penalties killed, the Rocket looked to see out their two-goal lead with nine minutes left in the game.
The Rocket would do just that, keeping the Hartford offence at bay while Fucale held down the fort in the final 20 minutes. Cracknell missed his hat trick goal by less than a foot late in the game, as his full-ice clearing attempt just missed the deserted Wolf Pack net, while Scherbak’s bank shot hit off the post in the dying seconds.
The Rocket are back in action today at 4:00 PM EST against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Place Bell. They’re then off for nearly a week, hosting Belleville on January 19.
1. Adam Cracknell (2 goals)
2. Nikita Scherbak (2 assists)
3. Noah Juulsen (2 massive hits)