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Rocket vs. Crunch recap & highlights: Laval’s indiscipline leads to a collapse in Syracuse

Poor discipline coupled with a poor penalty kill spelled disaster for the Rocket in Central New York.

Club de Hockey Canadien

The Rocket earned a well-deserved point on Friday night at home in a shootout loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. They had plenty of good chances, but couldn’t grab the extra point in the shootout. The team hopped on the bus and headed into a snowy Central New York for a showdown with the Syracuse Crunch, a dangerous team much like the Rocket, who were running into some bad-luck struggles of their own.

Michael McNiven was named the starter for the second half of the back-to-back in advance of Friday’s game in Laval, while Hunter Shinkaruk and Michal Moravcik were scratched in favour of Adam Plant and Michael Pezzetta on Saturday night. Connor Ingram got the nod for the Crunch; another young goaltender looking to solidify himself at the AHL level.

Unlike the slow start on Friday night, the Rocket jumped on the scoresheet early on in the first period — on the power play no less, an area where they have struggled all year. Dennis Yan tripped a Rocket player in the offensive and sent Laval to the man advantage, and some slick play from Jake Evans got the puck to Michael Chaput, who in turn banked the puck in off of Cameron Gaunce to give Laval an early lead.

Syracuse found the scoresheet themselves thanks to a Nikita Jevpalovs holding penalty with a little over 10 minutes gone in the game. The usually stalwart Rocket penalty kill had killed off a chunk of Jevpalovs’ minor, but Brett Kulak took an elbowing penalty of his own, giving the Crunch a 5-on-3 opportunity. Quick passes from Carter Verhaeghe to Alex Barre-Boulet forced McNiven to scramble in his crease. Barre-Boulet slid it across to Taylor Raddysh, and he had no problem scoring the tying goal.

After the goal, the Rocket locked the Crunch down on the penalty kill, and took the lead back before the period was over thanks to the combination of Chaput and Evans again. Evans carried the puck in on net, and some fancy footwork allowed him to spin off his check to feed the puck to Chaput, who got a shot off and finished off his own rebound for his second goal of the period.

A physical, and fast-paced opening period came to an end with the Rocket leading by a goal, but both sides had seen plenty of dangerous chances on net in the opening 20 minutes.

The opening minutes of the second period were broken up by penalties on both sides, with Hubert Labrie and Daniel Audette being whistled for infractions, but neither power play could convert on their chance. However, Labrie took a high-sticking double minor with about six minutes gone, and this time the Rocket power play would make him pay for his lack of discipline.

A dangerous looking man advantage paid off when the speed of Audette caught the Crunch on a line change. He picked out Ryan Sproul streaking into the zone and fed him a perfect pass. Sproul uncorked a wicked one-timer and beat Ingram to give Laval a two-goal lead early in the second period.

Then the wheels began to fall off, and in rather quick order as well, due in large part to a lack of discipline, which led to a plethora of chances for a dynamic Syracuse power play. Byron Froese collided with Ingram behind the net, and sat for two minutes, but as he exited the box Alexandre Alain would replace him, sitting for holding.

Carter Verhaeghe scored less than a minute into the Crunch man advantage to get his team within a goal, and that swung the momentum of the game heavily in Syracuse’s favour. A few minutes after Verhaeghe’s goal, Alex Barre-Boulet tipped home a shot from Andy Andreoff to tie the game up, and put Laval back on their heels.

A late penalty by Nolan Valleau gave the Rocket a chance to regain the lead before the second intermission, but the Rocket power play couldn’t solve Ingram, and went to the locker room having wasted a two-goal lead.

The penalty issue didn’t improve any in the final period, with a pair of badly timed penalties leading to two more power-play goals against. First a bad change resulted in too many men on the ice, and Gaunce converted to give the Crunch a 4-3 lead just before the halfway point of the period. Then, despite another patented third-period offensive wave, David Sklenicka hit a Syracuse player from behind and sat for two minutes on a boarding call. Cal Foote scored his first of the year on the ensuing Syracuse power play.

Joël Bouchard was aggressive with his pull of McNiven; with nearly three minutes left on the clock, the young netminder headed to the Rocket bench. Alexander Volkov added an empty-net goal to seal the game, and send the Rocket out of New York with no points.

The game ended with a small bright spot for Pezzetta, as he tallied the first goal of his AHL career with under a minute left to play. A scramble had the puck come back to Sklenicka at the point, and he fired a shot in on net, where it was redirected in by Pezzetta to make it a 6-4 game. But it was too little, too late.

The Rocket will play in Utica next, on Wednesday night, before spending American Thanksgiving weekend in Charlotte for a two-game stint with the Checkers on Saturday and Sunday.

Three Stars

1. Cameron Gaunce (1 Goal, 1 Assist

2. Alex Barre-Boulet (1 Goal, 2 Assists)

3. Carter Verhaeghe (1 Goal, 1 Assist)