After Friday night’s dismal showing, the Laval Rocket looked to earn a split with the Utica Comets on Saturday afternoon. Joël Bouchard brought in sweeping lineup changes with Michael McCarron, Hunter Shinkaruk and Alexandre Grenier giving way for Alexandre Alain, Antoine Waked, and Daniel Audette. On defence Adam Plant and Ryan Sproul were replaced by Brett Lernout and David Sklenicka. After coming on in relief, Michael McNiven got the start in net for the Rocket, facing Ivan Kulbakov for the second day in a row.
It was another tentative start from the Rocket, as they managed just three shots on goal in the opening 14 minutes of the contest. The newly formed trio of Michael Pezzetta, Michael Chaput , and Waked had an early chance, but until a late power play, the Rocket failed to mount any sort of threatening offence. Vincent Arseneau slashed Nikita Scherbak’s stick giving Laval the first power play of the game, outside of a point shot from Brett Kulak, the Rocket man advantage looked stagnant once more.
A poorly timed Lernout boarding penalty gave the Comets a chance to break the deadlock late in the period. The Rocket penalty kill remained strong, surrendering only a few chances against, none of which troubled McNiven. The two sides headed into the first intermission with just 11 total shots between them, and no goals on the board.
The second period didn’t start as planned for Laval, either, with Pezzetta taking a charging minor just 37 seconds in. The ever aggressive Rocket penalty kill ended up generating more scoring chances for themselves than the Comets did on their power play, and some smart play by Chaput resulted in an Olli Juolevi hooking penalty as he tried to break up an odd-man rush.
The power play again failed to generate much momentum for the Rocket, and that would soon come back to bite them.
After Brett Lernout stepped in to defend David Sklenicka in a post-whistle scrum, he paired off with Arseneau, and in a one-sided fight scored a decisive victory.
Brett Lernout comes to the defense of David Sklenicka, and throws some bombs against Vincent Arseneau pic.twitter.com/03AVIFpbEa— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 3, 2018
Shortly after the fisticuffs, a shot came in on McNiven that flipped up in the air, and with Byron Froese and McNiven miscommunicating on the play, Cameron Darcy had all day to backhand the puck in to open the scoring.
Darcy took a seat in the penalty box just 20 seconds later for hooking, and after the Comets dispatched the Rocket man advantage, once again Pezzetta sent Utica to a power play.
The Laval penalty kill finally took advantage of all the chances they were getting. A poor breakout pass from Juolevi led to a Nikita Jevpalovs interception. Jevpalovs made no mistake ripping a shot by Kulbakov and tying the game up at one goal apiece.
Olli Juolevi flubs a breakout pass, and Nikita Jevpalovs rips home a shorthanded goal for the Rocket to tie the game. pic.twitter.com/YpiEhp83j4— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 3, 2018
The Rocket kept the pressure on, and forced Utica into another hooking call, this time on Tanner MacMaster with a little over five minutes remaining. A few early chances trickled wide of Kulbakov and the Utica net, but again the Rocket man advantage could not find the back of the net in a crucial situation.
With a goal for each side the Comets and Rocket headed to the second intermission tied once again, with Laval leading in shots 18-13.
The final period got off to a start that Bouchard and the Rocket were desperately looking for, with Kenny Agostino nearly potting a goal less than a minute in, but the glove of Kulbakov denied him once more.
As Laval piled on more shots, a scrum broke out after another Kulbakov stop, leading to Ashton Sautner and Alex Belzile heading to the penalty box. David Sklenicka’s stick failed him on the ensuing four-on-four, and he was bailed out thanks to a fantastic glove save by McNiven, who was turning in a fine performance on Saturday afternoon.
Pezzetta atoned for some of his earlier infractions, drawing a crosschecking call with about 11 minutes to go in the third period, and on that power play the Comets were also whistled for delay of game, creating a five on three power play for 1:50. Yet again, the Rocket man advantage — even with two additional skaters — failed to get dangerous pucks on net, making them 0-for-6 on the afternoon.
With both teams looking for a go-ahead goal late in the game, the Rocket provided Utica with a golden chance. Jake Evans buried Jonah Gadjovich right on the numbers, and was sent to the box for boarding with five minutes left in regulation.
Almost immediately after Evans’s minor expired, Jevpalovs who took a seat for tripping, sending Utica to another power play with less than three minutes to go.
Again the penalty kill shined bright, shutting down the Comets. With the seconds ticking away, Utica was caught with too many men on the ice. The power play didn’t convert in the 30 seconds left in regulation, but Laval did receive a four-on-three to start overtime at Place Bell.
It wouldn’t take long in the extra period for the game to come to a close.Agostino slapped a pass to Belzile, who slid it across the crease to Evans. The rookie centreman buried the one-timer into the back of the net for the second point, and an end to the Rocket’s early-season losing streak.
Jake Evans' third goal of the year is the overtime winner for the Laval Rocket! pic.twitter.com/lUqtqcRt40— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 3, 2018
There will be no reprieve from this matchup, as the two teams will square off Wednesday night in Utica. After this chippy affair, it should be another hotly contested game.
1. Kenny Agostino (1 assist)
2. Ivan Kulbakov (33 saves)
3. Byron Froese (5 shots)