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Rocket vs. Senators recap: Michael McNiven’s strong start guides Laval to second straight win

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The young netminder was a wall in net as the Rocket secured two points in a dominant performance.

Club de Hockey Canadien

After splitting their weekend road trip in Ontario, the Laval Rocket once again returned home to Place Bell for a showdown with the Belleville Senators, a team that less than a week ago had embarassed Laval. Losing 7-2 is bad enough, but it was made worse by dismal goaltending and any sort of cohesive team effort.

The Rocket made two major lineup changes coming into this match, with Xavier Ouellet replacing David Sklenicka on defence, and Morgan Adams-Moisan stepping in for Antoine Waked in the forward group.

Michael McNiven looked to build on his overtime win in Toronto with another start for Joël Bouchard, facing off against Marcus Hogberg for the Senators.

The start was less than ideal for the Rocket. The team was whistled for having too many men on the ice just 1:40 into the game. McNiven kept the Senators’ power play off the board with a handful of big stops. Belleville evened up the power-play chances with eight minutes gone, a faceoff violation penalty handed the Rocket’s lacklustre man advantage a chance to give their side the lead after a slow start. Again, the beleaguered power play couldn’t score. A few good looks fell to the stick of Ouellet and Simon Després, but no goals.

The even-strength play didn’t last long, as Joseph Labate was called for holding a Rocket defender in the offensive zone and giving Laval another huge opportunity to open the scoring. The man advantage failed to convert, but Victor Mete looked right at home using his mobility to move the puck around the zone to create looks on net for himself and teammates.

The period ended without any goals being scored, despite Byron Froese’s best efforts to dive at a loose puck in Hogberg’s crease as the horn went off.

Belleville’s lack of discipline continued in the second period, this time at great risk to Alexandre Alain who was forcefully boarded by Jonathan Racine 82 seconds into the period. For the third straight power play, the Rocket failed to really threaten Hogberg, and spoiled another golden opportunity to take command against the Senators.

At even strength the Rocket had begun to clamp down on Belleville, controlling the offensive play and allowing just a lone dump-in shot on McNiven in the opening 10 minutes of the period. Even if the Senators managed extended zone time in the Rocket end, they were kept to the outside and forced to work heavily on the boards to move the puck in any way.

The Rocket finally found their breakthrough late in the period, and it all started with a great pass by Mete. He found a streaking Nikita Jevpalovs up ice, and the Latvian forward spun around Julius Bergman, and while being shoved over finished his backhand shot for his fifth goal of the year.

Not long after the goal, the Rocket were forced to kill their second penalty of the night as Adams-Moisan was called for interference. The Senators landed zero shots on McNiven, and an unaware Stuart Percy nearly cost his team a goal with a bad turnover in front of his net.

The Rocket’s relentless pace in the second period led to them drawing another call with under four minutes remaining, Boston Leier being the guilty party this time. Like the previous three power plays, the Rocket failed to score, or even set up in the offensive zone with the man advantage.

Laval’s lead held into the second intermission, with double the shots of their opponent.

The Rocket were tested early in the final period as the newly acquired Tobias Lindberg broke loose on a breakaway just minutes in. He tried to deke to his backhand and beat McNiven, but the Rocket goalie gloved the puck away and kept the Senators off the board.

Laval doubled their advantage shortly after, with Alexandre Grenier sliding a perfect pass off to Hunter Shinkaruk as the duo entered the Belleville zone. Shinkaruk used his great skating to cut back to the middle of the ice and let a wrist shot fly that found the back of the net, his third goal of the year.

The Rocket defence locked down the ice even further after advancing their lead. The team would have to keep their focus, however, after a slash on Lindberg in front of the Senators’ bench.

With their net empty, the Senators continued to try to break the shutout, but the Rocket penalty-killers were steadfast in their defence and didn’t allow any dangerous chances on McNiven. With McCarron out of the box, McNiven was called upon to make a big stop, a fantastic windmill glove save on a heavy Adam Tambellini shot from the point.

Andreas Englund finally got the Senators on the board. Taking a pass from Christian Wolanin, he ripped a perfect shot over McNiven, spoiling the shutout bid for the netminder.

Laval got the goal right back however, with Grenier capping off a solid game with an empty-net goal.

A tough task lies ahead this weekend, as the Rocket welcome the Syracuse Crunch to Place Bell for a two-game series. Syracuse is one of the hottest teams in the league, and is coming off an 8-1 shellacking of the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday night.

On the injury front, Hayden Verbeek left the game with an upper-body injury after a blindside hit by Logan Brown went uncalled by the officials. Hopefully it isn’t as bad as it initially looked.

Three Stars

1. Michael McNiven (18 Saves, Win)

2. Nikita Jevpalovs (1 Goal)

3. Hunter Shinkaruk (1 Goal)