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Rocket vs. Monsters recap & highlights: Jake Evans scores two as Laval wins third straight

Laval adds to their first streak of the season by playing “the best period of the season.”

Jake Evans celebrates
Cleveland Monsters

On the heels of a successful three-game series against the Utica Comets, the Laval Rocket were in Cleveland on Friday night for the first time in franchise history to take on the Monsters in a North Division showdown. Laval was trying to extend their first winning streak to three games.

The last time that a Montreal Canadiens farm team was in Cleveland was way back in April of 2006. It was the Hamilton Bulldogs against the Cleveland Barons. Among scorers for Hamilton were Andrei Kostitsyn, Pierre Dagenais (2), and Kyle Chipchura in a 7-1 win. With the Monsters moving into the North Division this year, the Rocket can expect to play them more regularly from now on.

The story of the season thus far for the Rocket has been seeing their effort and shot domination go unrewarded as teams regularly steal wins from their lack of finishing ability. It might be said that the Rocket saw a reversal in fortune last night, struggling to put shots on net, totally only 10 in the first two periods. However, they capitalized on opportunities and were finally getting some simple luck early enough to set the pace, before taking over the game entirely to win by a 5-1 score.

The Rocket came out very strong, scoring two quick goals in the first 5:25 of the first period. First Alexandre Alain scored in a second consecutive game after receiving a fake-shot pass directly onto the tape from blue-liner Maxim Lamarche. Alain was perfectly positioned in front of the net to receive the pass and just had to tip the puck.

Then Jake Evans scored his fourth of the season, a mere two-and-a-half minutes later, giving the Rocket two goals on their first three shots.

A third goal on only their fifth shot of the period gave the Rocket a comfortable lead headed into the first intermission. It was Nikita Scherbak who completed a set-play zone entry with linemates Nikita Jevpalovs and Lukas Vejdemo to score his first goal of the season. On the rush the Monsters’ defenders were completely overwhelmed, and Scherbak managed to skate in unchecked to easily deke out the goaltender.

Following the initial outburst of goals, the momentum shifted in the Monsters’ favour as they peppered Rocket starter Charlie Lindgren, who stood tall in the first two periods, withstanding 25 of the 26 shots directed at him. Lindgren was coming off of a strong performance, replacing stater Michael McNiven against the Comets on Wednesday, and arguably played his best game of the season thus far.

The Rocket were badly outplayed in the second period, but Lindgren kept the opposition off the board for nearly the full frame. With two seconds left in the second, Cleveland scored, bringing them to within two goals, and giving them hope for the third period.

But any and all hope was lost when the Rocket scored two quick goals off of bad turnovers. First Evans scored his second of the game, then Lukas Vejdemo sealed the deal less than a minute later.

After the game, a jubilant Joël Bouchard thought that the Rocket played their best period of the season in the third. Weathering the storm from the first two periods, the Rocket utterly dominated the Monsters in the final period, by a shot count of 14-6. If tracking statistics were avaialable, surely the dominance would have been evident there as well.

Bouchard lauded his players for their commitment to the gameplan, so much so that he stated that the Monsters “didn’t want to play any longer,” as the Rocket completely knocked them out of the game. He credited the players for being fully invested all season long, and that this win was the evidence of hard work paying off.

Thoughts

  • Despite not having points to show for it, Michael McCarron played an exceptional game, centring a line with Alain and Daniel Audette. McCarron, returning to the lineup after missing two games with a back injury, was a pain to defend against all game long, and even got involved physically when needed. Alain and Audette are playing some of their best hockey of the season alongside him as well.
  • Scherbak scored his first goal of the season and probably played his best game of his conditioning loan from Montreal, but I’m not fully convinced that he’s ready to be inserted into the Canadiens lineup yet.
  • Bouchard may have struck gold with the defensive pairing of Lamarche and Michal Moracvik. Both players were +4 on the night.
  • Alex Belzile continues to be a workhorse, netting two assists and taking over the team lead for points from Kenny Agostino, with 11 points in 14 games.
  • Scratches included Michael Pezzetta, Antoine Waked, Ryan Sproul, and Adam Plant. Expect some of them to play on Saturday as the Rocket will once again play against the Monsters in what is sure to be a tighter game.

Three Stars

1) Jake Evans
2) Charlie Lindgren
3) Lukas Vejdemo