Coming off a poor special-teams showing in Syracuse, and a late loss in Utica, the Laval Rocket headed south of the Mason-Dixon Line for a showdown with one of the AHL’s best sides: the Charlotte Checkers.
The team would be without three of its mainstays in Kenny Agostino, Michael Chaput, and Brett Kulak, all of whom are on recall with the Montreal Canadiens. Stepping into the lineup for the injured Hayden Verbeek came Phelix Martineau, who was playing in his first career AHL game. Charlie Lindgren got the nod in net, facing Alex Nedeljkovic for the Checkers.
The high-powered Charlotte offence went to work right away, piling up a handful of shots in the opening minutes before a Nicolas Roy hooking penalty sent his side to the penalty kill. A struggling power play looked even more disjointed without many of its key pieces. The Rocket failed to register a single shot on the man advantage.
Charlotte then found the back of the net moments after they killed off the penalty. Greg McKegg fired a shot and a sprawling Lindgren made the save initially, but the rebound fell to Valentin Zykov who had no issues wiring the puck by Lindgren for an early Charlotte lead.
The Rocket worked to get a few chances of their own, including a solid look from Michael McCarron right around the Checkers net, but they could not force a shot behind Nedeljkovic.
Despite the pushback, the Checkers added to their lead shortly after, with Aleksi Saarela teeing up a one-timer for Patrick Brown, who blasted a shot by Lindgren. To add to the rough start, Byron Froese sat for a kneeing penalty 40 seconds later, but the Rocket penalty kill came up big to keep the deficit at two goals.
Laval took the momentum from that penalty kill and used it to get on the board late in the period, with Ryan Sproul setting up Michal Moravcik for his first AHL goal.
First AHL goal for Michal Moravcik! pic.twitter.com/KfpyYMIcm3— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 24, 2018
Quick passing from Daniel Audette to Sproul, and from Sproul to Moravcik forced the Charlotte defence out of position, giving the big Czech defender all day to fire the puck.
A late Checkers penalty failed to result in another goal for the Rocket, and they headed into the first intermission trailing by a goal still.
It wouldn’t take long for the Rocket to find their tying goal in the second period, this time coming from the captain, Byron Froese. A smart read by Jake Evans to intercept a Charlotte breakout pass allowed him to find Froese at the side of the net. Froese spun and lifted the puck past Nedeljkovic for his sixth goal of the year, and creating a tie game less than four minutes into the period.
Byron Froese with the nifty mitts in close and he scores his sixth of the year for Laval. pic.twitter.com/XQXJEWleED— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 25, 2018
That was — and this is not an exaggeration — the last real threat from the Rocket for the period; they managed just two shots in the middle frame.
Just two minutes after Froese’s goal, the Checkers took the lead back thanks to Jake Bean. The young defender fired a wrist shot on net, and it hit off a Laval stick and past Lindgren for a 3-2 lead.
To compound issues, with the offence stalling out, the team took three straight penalties late in the period, hampering their chances of getting back into the game. The Rocket killed off Martineau’s penalty, then Maxim Lamarche immediately replaced him in the box, and this time Saarela notched a goal, and put the game out of reach.
For good measure, Ryan Sproul took a high-sticking penalty less than a minute later, ensuring that his team would start the third period killing a third straight penalty.
The Rocket registered eight shots in the final frame, but their chances were broken up by a David Sklenicka penalty and subsequent kill. Frustrations boiled over late as the game ended, with McCarron collecting a roughing penalty at the final horn.
Despite holding the best team in the AHL to just 25 shots, the Rocket only mustered 16 of their own, not nearly enough for a team needing a big comeback in the third period. Of course, missing three of your core players hurts, but Joël Bouchard will be looking to get more out of his team while said players are on recall.
The Rocket and Checkers will clash in a rematch at 1:00 PM today, with Michael McNiven more than likely starting for Laval.
1. Aleksi Saarela (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
2. Greg McKegg (2 Assists)
3. Patrick Brown (1 Goal)