Forward Nikita Scherbak admitted he wasn’t in complete game shape on Wednesday night, playing in an American Hockey League regular season contest against the Belleville Senators.
It was the first meaningful game action the former first-round pick had played in months.
“It was a little hard, personally, in the third period,” Scherbak said. “My legs were getting heavier and I felt that I didn’t have that extra push that maybe I had in the second period,”
Scherbak tried to create chances for his teammates, and even notched three shots on target, but it still resulted in a 2-1 loss for the Laval Rocket against the Belleville Senators on Halloween night. The Rocket outshot their opponents 35-19, even holding Belleville without a shot in the third period. But the home team scored just once on 18 shots in the final frame, and couldn’t solve netminder Filip Gustavsson for most of the night. Laval has now lost five games in a row.
“It’s not the effort that’s lacking, it’s not our work habits, it’s not our scoring chances,” Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard said after the game. “We’re frustrated. I sympathize with the players. I’m tough on them but I love them a lot. I’m really proud of this group.”
“I think for most of the game we did a good job of shutting [Belleville] down offensively,” said forward Jake Evans. “In the third, I don’t think we could’ve had a better period,”
Bouchard and Evans both remarked that the team may be gripping their sticks too tight over their last set of games.
When you consider Scherbak’s current situation over the last few weeks, they’re fortunate they’ve had sticks to grip.
After a promising 2017-18 campaign in both the National Hockey League and AHL, Scherbak has found himself on the outside looking into the Montreal Canadiens lineup. So much so, the team sent him to Laval on a conditioning stint Tuesday night. The Russian played on a top line with Byron Froese and Michael McCarron in Wednesday night’s game, wearing an unfamiliar #37 jersey. He wore 17 with the Rocket last season.
Scherbak admits it hasn’t been easy sitting around waiting for a chance to play.
“It’s frustrating,” Scherbak said. “We have a great group of guys up there [in Montreal] who are cheering me up. Personally, I just have to take it day-by-day. I cannot look in the future, in two weeks, three weeks, with what’s going to happen. I just have to take it day-by-day and work as hard as I can.”
In the opening frame, Scherbak was probably at his most active. He fed Byron Froese twice with passes, with both shots missing the mark. Instead, it was Belleville’s young prospect, Drake Batherson who opened the scoring with his fourth of the year. The Senators’ fourth-round pick took a pass from Julius Bergman along the near-side half wall. The forward then fired a one-timer past Charlie Lindgren.
In the second period, the Senators got their second of the game thanks to Chase Balisy. The Rocket made a game of it in the third with a Jake Evans goal in the third. The Notre Dame product came up the ice and roofed his second of the year past Filip Gustavsson.
Scherbak doesn’t know how long he’ll be in Laval during his conditioning stint. It could be the entire two weeks, it could be less. But for however long he’ll be back in a Rocket uniform, he will have head coach Bouchard in his corner.
“I’m not giving up on him,” Bouchard said. “He was invested tonight. He wasn’t sour. He didn’t show up acting like a diva. He was positive on the bench. He tried to understand our game plan. I made some adjustments on the fly. I asked him to do things, he took on the challenge,
“Considering he hadn’t played in a while, he gave a great effort. There’s things to work on, like with every player, but nobody can say he wasn’t invested and didn’t try to help the team win,”
Laval will host their next two games against the Utica Comets Friday and Saturday, before playing the Comets on the road next Wednesday at the Adirondack Bank Center.