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Laval Rocket preview: No margin for error

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A strong week might put the Rocket back on track

The veterans Adam Cracknell, Chris Terry, and Matt Taormina must lead the way
Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

The Situation

Not to sound alarmist, but the Laval Rocket are starting to dig a nice little hole for themselves in their quest to make the playoffs in their inaugural season. They are currently sitting seven points behind the Utica Comets and the final playoff spot in the North Division. In six seasons behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens AHL farm team, head coach Sylvain Lefebvre would certainly want to avoid missing the playoffs for a fifth time.

With 33 games left in the regular season, the situation is not dire for the Rocket, but certainly stringing together a few victories would go a long way towards qualifying for the playoffs. The Rocket only have a single winning streak (of three wins) since stringing together four wins in six games at the start of November. Since then they have only won eight times in 27 games, all spaced out by one or multiple losses.

So far this month the team has three wins in eight games. Two losses came against against the Utica Comets which helped the Comets widen their lead for that final playoff spot. On top of that, historically, January has rarely been favourable for Lefebvre.

The Personnel

The Rocket continue to miss many vital parts of their team as Daniel Carr, Byron Froese, Nicolas Deslauriers, and Jakub Jerabek remain called up with the Montreal Canadiens, and probably will for the foreseeable future.

Adding to the thinning roster, Jeremy Gregoire was suspended by the league for one game, following a skirmish at the end of Saturday’s game against Belleville that resulted in numerous Game Misconduct penalties after the final whistle had blown.

With Gregoire suspended, the Rocket are seriously lacking experienced depth, and numbers even, to their roster as Chris Terry and Nikita Scherbak, two-thirds of the Rocket top line, missed games due to injury. Both have lower body injuries, with Terry potentially available for Wednesday’s game. The nature of Scherbak’s injury wasn’t revealed, but he reportedly was in some pain after blocking a shot in his last game. He too could return for Wednesday’s game.

Both cases remain uncertain however, and unless one of them comes back to play on Wednesday, the Rocket will be down to 11 healthy forwards.

UPDATE: Nikita Scherbak will play Wednesday, but Chris Terry remains injured and may miss the entire week of games.

With Terry and Scherbak on the sidelines last week, the offence was squarely on the shoulders of Adam Cracknell who more than lived up to the challenge.

Of the 20 goals scored by the Rocket in January, Cracknell has nine of them (and four of the nine even-strength goals). Scoring close to 50% of all goals is a remarkable feat for the newest member of the Rocket, but also underscores the severe lack of production from the remainder of the forwards.

The week ahead

The Rocket play three games this week, all at home:

  • Wednesday, January 24th, 7:30pm against the Syracuse Crunch
  • Friday, January 27th, 7:30pm against the Manitoba Moose
  • Saturday, January 28th, 7:30pm against the Manitoba Moose

The Opponents

The Rocket have done well against the Crunch this season, winning three of four games thus far, with another four games to go against their divisional rival. The Crunch sit in third spot in the division, behind Rochester and Toronto, but safely ahead of Utica.

Several top players are on recall to the Tampa Bay Lightning on the Crunch side, notably Michael Bournival, Cory Conacher, and Matthew Peca.

To make up for the recalls, the Crunch signed former Montreal Canadiens draft pick Olivier Archambault to a PTO. Archambault previously played on a PTO for the San Jose Barracuda where he registered five points in 12 games.

The Rocket defeated the Crunch in their previous meeting.

The Manitoba Moose are the second best team in the AHL right now, only behind the Toronto Marlies. The Moose have scored the most goals in the league, and allowed the second fewest. Frankly it’s a tall order for the Rocket to play this team on two consecutive nights.

The Moose are led offensively by rookie Mason Appleton, a sixth round pick in 2015 by the Winnipeg Jets, and veteran Buddy Robinson. The two have 36 and 35 points respectively. Jack Roslovic, also at 35 points is currently recalled by the Jets, and will possibly miss the games against the Rocket.

In two previous meetings this season, the Moose won both games.

Fun fact: Former Montreal Canadiens captain Mike Keane was the captain of the Moose from 2005 to 2010, acting as the veteran liaison between the players and the coaching staff. His number 12 was retired by the team in 2012. He is currently a development coach for the Winnipeg Jets, and continues to work with the players on the Moose.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images