The Laval Rocket met the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday night, riding high after a dominant victory over the Belleville Senators last weekend.
While they dominated the scoreboard, they suffered a few major losses heading into this game. Jeremy Gregoire was suspended for his role in a post-game brawl with the Senators, while Chris Terry was still on the shelf with an injury. The losses forced Laval to play with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, as opposed to the traditional 12-forward/six-defencemen alignment. Charlie Lindgren got the start in net for the Rocket, while opposite him was Connor Ingram for the Crunch.
With many of those in chage of personnel for the Montreal Canadiens in attendance, including Marc Bergevin, Claude Julien, Trevor Timmins and many of the team’s scouts, it was a start to forget for the Rocket. The Crunch hemmed Laval in their defensive zone for most of the opening four minutes of the game, while not surrendering a single shot against.
Adam Cracknell was whistled for a penalty, giving a potent Syracuse offence a chance to operate on the power play. Some aggressive penalty killing by Markus Eisenschmid led to the Crunch man advantage ending early, and gave Laval their own chance to use their red-hot power play early in the first period.
Things didn’t get much better from ther. Despite a few looks on the power play, the Rocket were unable to convert.
After an icing call in their favour, Yannick Veilleux was called for a faceoff violation, sending Syracuse back to the power play. A suddenly robust penalty kill unit held off a surging Syracuse man advantage, and then after some good looks in the offensive zone, the Rocket once again drew a penalty for a chance to overcome a slow start to the game.
Even though they didn’t convert on their second power play chance, they would finally break through on their third shortly afterward. With Erik Cernak sitting for cross-checking, the Rocket power play clicked into gear and had Syracuse scrambling to slow it back down. Some great interplay between Matt Taormina and Eric Gelinas eventually got the puck over to Nikita Scherbak. Scherbak held the puck for a few moments, then let a wrist shot fly right through Ingram to open the scoring for Laval.
Nikita Scherbak shows some great patience before wiring a shot through Connor Ingram. pic.twitter.com/FkRCn14A7l— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2018
The Crunch ended the period once more on the penalty kill, this time with Ben Thomas being the guilty party. The Rocket couldn’t capitalize before the end of the period, but would start the second period with a healthy chunk of power play time remaining.
The Rocket jumped out of the gate in the second, making up the shot deficit while forcing Ingram to make a number of big saves.
With Alexander Volkov sitting for tripping, the Rocket had a golden chance to take over the game. Instead, Michael McCarron was whistled for a two-minute minor, but before he could get to the box he shoved Ingram first drawing a crowd.
In the ensuing four-on four-situation, Noah Juulsen got caught trying to do too much with the puck. Mitchell Stephens picked Juulsen’s pocket, and got the puck to Dennis Yan, who roofed the tying goal past Lindgren.
Noah Juulsen caught trying to do too much and gets his pocket picked.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2018
Dennis Yan finishes the play off to tie the game. pic.twitter.com/eOv0umdWih
The Crunch were determined to hand the game over to Laval however, as Thomas was called for holding. After the Crunch killed that penalty off they nearly scored on a break of their own, but a Lindgren pad save denied them.
As the play shifted back to the Crunch zone, Reid McNeill was called for interference, sending Laval to their seventh power play in the first 40 minutes. The man advantage failed to convert yet again, and then Niki Petti took a late elbowing penalty, giving the Crunch a chance to break the deadlock.
They did just that, with Anthony Cirelli cashing in on a rebound just five seconds into the power play, giving the Crunch a 2-1 lead despite playing most of the period short-handed.
The Crunch needed just five seconds to score on the power play and take the lead, Anthony Cirelli with the goal. pic.twitter.com/2ieYwgqFhn— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2018
With under a minute left on the clock, Eric Gelinas took a turn in the penalty box for interference. Lindgren then had to come up with an absolutely crucial save, as he slid across his crease and got a shoulder on the shot to stop a prime scoring chance by the Crunch.
What a massive save by Charlie Lindgren on the penalty kill to keep the Crunch from converting again. pic.twitter.com/GU3LmOzskv— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2018
The Rocket easily dispatched the remainder of Gelinas’ penalty to start the third, but they played less than a minute at even strength before Daniel Audette tripped up a Crunch player.
On the power play it was Stephens who cashed in once more for Syracuse. Mathieu Joseph flew into the zone down the wing, and as he circled the net he found Stephens, who slotted the puck past Lindgren to make it a 3-1 game.
Mitchell Stephens makes it 3-1 Crunch with a power play goal. pic.twitter.com/bKLI4wMib9— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2018
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Rocket then took a slashing call with Gelinas again being th culprit, and in a scrum after the whistle David Broll was also called on a roughing minor as he went after Daniel Walcott. Thankfully for the Rocket, their penalty-killing unit was able to handle the power play with ease, and sent the play back to even strength still trailing by two goals.
As the clock started to wind down, Kyle Baun and Olivier Archambault got into a heated shoving match that spilled into the Syracuse bench. After they were separated, Baun was given a double minor for roughing and Archambault just a single roughing minor. The Rocket again handled the penalty kill with relative ease, and with three minutes on the clock Lindgren headed for the bench in favour of an extra attacker.
With the net empty, Syracuse nearly scored and sealed the game for good, but some deft feet from Scherbak prevented the empty-net tally.
At the other end of the ice, an errant pass by the Crunch landed on the stick of Audette, who found the back of the net for his ninth goal of the year.
Daniel Audette with a rocket of a shot for his 9th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/QvUfm86SNG— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2018
It was too little, too late for the Rocket however, as they ended up falling by a 3-2 score, mostly due to their lack of discipline in key situations.
The Rocket face another stern task this weekend, as they face off in a pair of games against the red-hot Manitoba Moose on Friday and Saturday at Place Bell.
1. Mathieu Joseph (2 Assists)
2. Mitchell Stephens (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
3. Nikita Scherbak (1 Goal)