After a hard-fought loss in overtime on Tuesday night in Toronto, the Laval Rocket headed south of the border for a showdown in Rochester on Saturday night with the Americans. It would be a stern test for a young but resilient Rocket side, as Rochester’s offence and special teams ranked among the best in the AHL through the early part of the season.
Rochester’s power play clocks in at an astounding 34.2%, ranking second in the AHL, while the Rocket’s own man advantage sits in 29th( 9.7%). On the flipside, the Rocket penalty kill was second in the AHL at 91.2%, while their opponent’s ranked 27th (72.5%). So the message should be clear: don’t give the Americans any extra opportunities on the man advantage, and try to exploit their own defensive issues.
Tryout Ryan Sproul found himself in the lineup alongside David Sklenicka, while Michal Moravcik, Adam Plant, Hayden Verbeek would be among the scratches. Charlie Lindgren was the night’s starter, as he faced Scott Wedgewood, who had played the night before, posting a 4-0 shutout of the Utica Comets.
The Rocket came out of the gate with authority,piling up odd-man rushes and great looks on net in the opening few minutes. If not for some extremely impressive goaltending from Wedgewood the Amerks could very well have been down multiple goals in the first five minutes. The relentless pressure from the Rocket forced Kevin Porter to hook down Alex Belzile in front of the net to prevent what looked like a potential tap in goal.
Great chances from Agostino and the rookie Cale Fleury were turned aside by Wedgewood on the man advantage. The Rocket continued their pressure with the penalty expired, with Jake Evans narrowly missing out on a goal of his own.
A penalty by Kenny Agostino brought the offence to a halt for Laval as they faced down the formidable Americans powerplay, killing it off with some timely glove saves from Lindgren.
The action through the first period was relentless from both sides, but another Rochester power play threatened to derail the Rocket’s fast start, but some timely interceptions from Nikita Jevpalovs and Lukas Vejdemo stopped the man advantage in its tracks.
In the following seconds, the Rocket managed to draw a call of their own, but could not capitalize before the end of the period, leaving about a minute of power-play time to start the second.
The second frame started with an abbreviated Laval power play, but the Amerks and Wedgewood were up to the task once more. Shortly after the power play ended, Jevpalovs was whistled for boarding, sending the Rocket down a man for the third time. More timely penalty-killing kept the game knotted, but the Amerks’ own lack of discipline ended up costing them. After killing off one penalty, Taylor Fedun tripped up a Laval player, giving the Rocket another crack at the man advantage.
A bit of a broken play led to the first goal of the night. A bumbled pass in the corner came to Alex Belzile, and his blind pass into the slot connected with Jake Evans. Evans bumped the pass to the point and Brett Kulak made no mistake, burying his second of the year.
Jake Evans bumps the pass back to Brett Kulak and the Rocket defender blasts home his second goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/Eh4ZNFbUo0— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 28, 2018
From there the period got much more physical, with former Rocket Yannick Veilleux throwing his body around, during and after the whistle. He threw a hit into Kenny Agostino on an offside play, and sparked a massive scrum. Maxim Lamarche and Dalton Smith broke off into their own fight.
Dalton Smith and Maxim Lamarche opt to settle things with fists instead of words. pic.twitter.com/RGWUDogVsj— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 28, 2018
Out of all the mess, the Rocket had a short-lived power play; short-lived because of a hooking call on Daniel Audette. After playing at four-on-four for a bit, both teams headed to the locker room, with Kulak’s goal being the only one on the board.
After a solid two periods, the final one would be one to forget for the Rocket, and Lindgren in particular. The Rocket were handed a gift-wrapped chance to double their lead when Andrew MacWilliam blindsided Belzile with an elbow to the head. In what became almost a nightmarish trend, the Rocket struggled to convert, even after Lawerence Pilut was sent to the box for delay of game.
After killing off another penalty the Amerks struck, this time with former IceCaps standout Zach Redmond doing the damage as he slid down from the point for a perfect back door goal.
Then things got ugly for Lindgren. With the Amerks killing a Danny O’Regan penalty, the puck was dumped in and Lindgren retreated to play it. As he went to pass it along the boards he flubbed the puck, and C.J. Smith pounced all over it for an easy goal, giving his team the lead.
The Rocket failed to capitalize on another five-on-three opportunity, and at their next chance the Amerks added another goal. Yannick Veilleux jumped all over a poorly cleared rebound for his first of the year, and what would stand as the game-winning goal.
A late double minor gave the Rocket some life, but not enough to mount a full comeback. Agostino, who had a bulls-eye on his back all game collected a puck from Byron Froese and absolutely blistered a shot past Wedgewood to make it a one-goal game.
With the net empty, a Fleury interference call wiped out any comeback chance, and the Rocket fell 3-2 in the Flower City.
Agostino with a power play tally to get Laval within a goal, assists to Froese and Evans. pic.twitter.com/MylUSdBBXX— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 28, 2018
The result is less than ideal, but when facing down a high-powered Rochester offence they kept both Victor Olofsson and Lawerence Pilut off the scoresheet, and killed all six penalties they faced, which would have been unheard of last season.
The Rocket now head back home to Place Bell, where they’ll have a Halloween showdown with the Belleville Senators on Wednesday night.
1. Yannick Veilleux (1 Goal)
2. Zach Redmond (1 Goal)
3. Kenny Agostino (1 Goal)