The Laval Rocket were on a recent run of good form, having won their last three games to end the calendar year. A pair of wins over the Rochester Americans and one more over the Belleville Senators saw the Rocket climb back into the hunt for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
At the opposite side of things, the rival Marlies had lost five of their last seven games, and lost their control of the top of the North Division.
Returning to the Laval lineup would be Brett Lernout and Zachary Fucale after stints in the NHL and ECHL, respectively. Fucale serve as the backup to Charlie Lindgren, while Lernout stepped into his top-four role for Sylvain Lefebvre once again.
The Rocket had the added boost of the Marlies being without Frederik Gauthier, and Kasperi Kapanen.
This showed early in the game as the Marlies dealt with a handful of chances from Laval, but Garret Sparks stood tall in net turning everything away with relative ease.
Despite having a number of good chances, it was Toronto getting on the board first, as Andreas Johnsson continued to pile up points against Laval. Chris Mueller sped into the Laval zone, and from the faceoff circle fired a pass across to a wide-open Johnsson at the back post, which the Swede easily directed home for the opening goal.
Andreas Johnsson continues to torch the Rocket, he makes it 1-0 Marlies on this redirect. pic.twitter.com/l27CRzAvVk— World Juniors Scort (@scottmatla) January 4, 2018
The Rocket had their chance to tie the game, with the top-line trio of Nikita Scherbak, Chris Terry, and Adam Cracknell nearly finding the back of the net. Cracknell took the puck in, cut to the slot and slid a pass across to Scherbak who let the shot fly, but found only the goalpost behind Sparks.
When it looked like the momentum was shifting to the Laval side of the ice, Eric Gelinas high-sticked Mueller, drawing blood and forcing the defenceman to sit for four minutes as the period was entering it’s dying stages. In an impressive display, the Rocket dispatched the double minor with relative ease, and escaped from the first period down by just one goal.
The second period was fast and furious right from the start, with Terry getting in behind the Toronto defence and getting a high-danger chance. Then the Marlies marched right down the ice and doubled their lead less than two minutes into the frame. Adam Brooks crossed into the offensive zone, and dropped a pass right to Kerby Rychel, who made no mistake by blasting a puck past a screened Lindgren.
Just over a minute later the Rocket got on the board, with the combination of Markus Eisenschmid and Daniel Audette combining for a gorgeous play. Eisenschmid got the puck behind the net, and while falling to his stomach swung the puck in front of the net. Audette’s first shot was stopped, but he pounced on the rebound, slamming home his seventh goal of the year.
Markus Eisenschmid passes from his stomach behind the net, and Daniel Audette puts home his 7th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/90mgo6DcAa— World Juniors Scort (@scottmatla) January 4, 2018
In the following minutes, Lindgren flashed his glove to rob Johnsson of a sure goal. Matt Taormina was called for hooking a Marlies player shortly thereafter, giving Toronto another chance to restore their two-goal lead. In spite of a number of dangerous chances, Lindgren once again held the fort for Laval, and helped kill another Marlies power play.
The Marlies wouldn’t be denied, however. After a windmill glove save by Sparks, they again went up by two goals. Travis Dermott took a Rychel pass at the blue line, then let a shot fly on net, where Brooks got a piece of it to score his second goal of the year.
A lack of focus once again nearly cost the Rocket a goal, with a too many men penalty sending Toronto to the power play in the final two minutes. Lindgren and the penalty killers though remained in top form, handling the Marlies’ man advantage to see out the middle period.
After a strong opening 40 minutes by ohnsson he took a cross-checking penalty less than a minute into the third, sending a a fairly formidable Rocket power play onto the ice. The Marlies top-ranked penalty kill continued to show why is holds that title, not giving the Rocket skaters any space to shoot or create plays with the man advantage on what became back-to-back penalties.
Several minutes of back-and-forth play saw neither side claw ahead on the scoreboard, or on the shot clock for that matter. The Marlies continued handing the Rocket’s golden opportunities, including during a Colin Greening penalty with eight minutes left in the third period. But before that penalty could expire, Rich Clune was whistled for slashing, giving Laval a massive 5-on-3 power play for 25 seconds.
The Marlies killed off the two-man disadvantage, but with the Rocket power play unit still on the ice, Cracknell would finally break through. Taormina fed a pass to Cracknell on the half boards, and with no Marlies around him, Cracknell walked in and sniped one past Sparks to make it a 3-2 game.
Adam Cracknell walks in, and calmly snipes one past Garret Sparks. pic.twitter.com/Ryg2m9Y2nD— World Juniors Scort (@scottmatla) January 4, 2018
The deficit stayed at one goal for only a short time once again, as Rinat Valiev restored the two-goal cushion for Toronto with his first goal of the year.
A kerfuffle behind the Marlies net with the Rocket looking to get back into the game drew the ire of Sparks, and he ended up in a tussle with Markus Eisenschmid. On the power play for the Marlies that ensued, they iced the game with Mueller adding a fifth goal for good measure in the final minute.
The Rocket are back in action on Friday, January 5 as they square off with the Utica Comets, and then meet the Binghamton Devils on the road the following night.
1. Kerby Rychel (1G, 1A)
2. Chris Mueller (1G, 1A)
3. Rinat Valiev (1G, 1A)