The Laval Rocket limped into the first of two weekend games against a North Division rival, the Utica Comets, on Friday night. Losing five straight, the Rocket and Joël Bouchard were looking for some sort of spark to ignite what should be a far more prominent offence.
Nikita Scherbak playing in his second conditioning game was a big add, as was the return of Cale Fleury to the defensive group along with Michal Moravcik. Alexandre Grenier returned to the Laval lineup after missing the previous game with an injury. Among the scratches were Brett Lernout, David Sklenicka, and Daniel Audette.
Charlie Lindgren naturally took the net for the Rocket, facing Belarusian netminder Ivan Kulbakov for the Comets.
Laval needed to come out of the gates quickly, and try to put the pressure on one of the teams they trail in the standings. They had a much more deliberate pace to start the game, though neither goalie facing a truly dangerous chance against through the first half of the period, or many chances in general.
Utica had the first big opportunity to break the deadlock when Alex Belzile was whistled for hooking with just under 10 minutes remaining. Laval’s stalwart penalty kill handled the Comets’ power play without breaking much of a sweat. Belzile exited the box and immediately generated an odd-man rush what was their best chance of the game to that point.
After a few more chances were turned away by Kulbakov, the Comets finally found the back of the net with under five minutes remaining in the period. Guillaume Brisebois picked out a streaking Jonathan Dahlen with a perfect stretch pass, and Dahlen put the moves on Lindgren before finishing his second goal of the year for a 1-0 Utica lead.
That would be the only goal as the teams headed into the intermission, Laval very much in need of a strong second period after struggling to generate much in the opening 20 minutes.
The second period didn’t hold better tidings for the Rocket, as the Comets’ offence pounced all over the sloppy defensive play of Laval. Back-to-back goals by Zack MacEwen and Michael Carcone just 2:28 apart ended the night of Charlie Lindgren, in spite of the goaltender’s best efforts earlier in the period on an odd-man rush.
Oh my god what a save by Charlie Lindgren! pic.twitter.com/jnpYhdmWnc— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 3, 2018
Michael McNiven took over in net, and was greeted with a three-on-four penalty kill, testing him plenty early into his appearance. Laval headed into the intermission searching for any sort of offence or bounce back in the third period.
Whether it was Utica sitting back a bit, or Bouchard tearing into his team at the intermission, the Rocket put all kinds of pressure on the Comets in the final period, outshooting them 15-3. A Cameron Darcy interference penalty sent Laval to the power play with four minutes gone, and if the Rocket had any hope of a comeback they would need a goal on the ensuing man advantage.
Brett Kulak obliged that need, powering home his third goal of the year from the blue line to break the Utica shutout.
Brett Kulak blasts home his third goal of the year for the Rocket, his goal gets Laval within two with just under 14 minutes to play. pic.twitter.com/qO6gkXa3gb— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 3, 2018
A quick bit of passing back and forth between Kulak and Belzile allowed the Rocket defender to find an open shooting lane, and then blast a shot past Kulbakov to cut the Comets’ lead to two goals.
That was as close as the Rocket got, however, even as they piled on shots on net, trying everything to find more goals. The closest chances fell to the sticks of Fleury and Michael Chaput, both of whom were denied by timely saves in the dying minutes. Even with a strong third-period effort the Rocket dropped their sixth straight game, leading to a players-only meeting post game.
These two teams will face off again tomorrow at 3:00 PM, and it’s more than likely that Bouchard will tweak his lineup for the afternoon contest.
1. Jonathan Dahlen (1 Goal)
2. Guillaume Brisebois (1 Assist)
3. Cale Fleury (1 Assist)