Less than 24 hours after suffering their worst loss of the season, Laval pulled into Toronto for a showdown with the divisional rival Marlies. Even after a less-than-stellar showing in temporary relief of Etienne Marcoux, Michael McNiven got the nod from Joël Bouchard as the starter. The task in front of him would not be easy, as the Marlies were bolstered by the return of Pierre Engvall to their lineup, while Kasimir Kaskisuo started for Toronto in net.
Games against Toronto are always up for grabs when it comes to the Canadiens AHL team, and even after the previous night’s loss, the Rocket were treating this game like it was do or die again.
In the opening moments, McNiven and the Rocket were tested quickly as Trevor Moore broke in on net, forcing McNiven into a timely save less than a minute into the contest. The pressure from Toronto continued in the Laval end as the Rocket tried to find some offensive zone time of their own, but found it difficult due to the relentless Marlies attack.
The Rocket defence and McNiven held strong against the waves of shots, and eventually managed to find their counter-attack thanks to Alex Belzile. Karl Alzner’s shot from the point landed on net, and then was batted around by Alexandre Alain and Michael McCarron before sliding to Belzile, who tapped the puck home into the open net.
Karl Alzner's shot creates havoc in front of the net, Alex Belzile cashes in for his fourth goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/Z6ng3QHFSQ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 9, 2018
The lead would be a short-lived one, however, as the ever dangerous Jeremy Bracco tied the game just over two minutes later. Calle Rosen skated the puck low into the Rocket zone, and with the defence failing to notice him, Bracco snuck in from the point and was wide open to get the shot away. McNiven had no chance on the goal, which triggered a deluge of teddy bears from the crowd.
Unlike the previous night, the Rocket didn’t fold under the pressure of the tying goal, battling back to regain their lead late in the first period. A Trevor Moore hooking penalty sent Laval to their second power play of the period, and this time they found a goal through Jake Evans, who continues to thrive in his rookie season.
Daniel Audette passed Evans the puck in the slot, and some great patience by the rookie allowed him to pick a perfect shooting lane before he wired a shot past Kaskisuo for a 2-1 Rocket lead heading into the intermission.
Jake Evans shows great patience as he scores his eighth goal of the year in Toronto. pic.twitter.com/l17xnNGoUn— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 9, 2018
The middle frame swung heavily in the Rocket’s favour, with team captain Byron Froese scoring less than five minutes in, and keeping his now five-game point streak alive. A heavy forecheck by Froese and Belzile forced Andreas Borgman into an errant pass, and Froese took that loose puck and ripped home his ninth goal of the year.
Byron Froese puts the pressure on Borgman to force a turnover, and snipes his ninth goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/TlXv2jSjSU— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 9, 2018
From there the Marlies began to take back the momentum of the game, and they were aided by high-sticking call to Alzner (which actually looked to be Adam Brooks’ own stick), which gave them a power play with just over eight minutes gone. A great chip by Chris Mueller got the puck to Bracco, who forced McNiven to face him one-on-one, and with the goalie playing the shot the whole way Bracco fed the puck back to Moore in the middle for a tap-in power-play goal.
Moore gave the Rocket a chance to restore their two-goal lead after his tally by lifting the puck out of play for a delay of game penalty. Some decent looks from Victor Mete and a solid cycle weren’t enough on the man advantage, however, and the Rocket held onto their one-goal lead all the way to the second intermission.
After a back-and-forth 40 minutes, the third period was broken up by a parade to the penalty box by both teams as Laval tried to add an insurance goal, while Toronto was doing everything in their power to find an equalizer. Frank Corrado opened the door with an interference penalty, but Alexandre Grenier cancelled out the man advantage 24 seconds later with a tripping penalty of his own.
Then the Rocket truly began playing with fire as Byron Froese was called for slashing, giving Toronto an abbreviated 5-on-3 power play. McNiven and the penalty-killers denied Toronto another goal in the crucial situation, only to be tested again when Maxim Lamarche cross-checked Mason Marchment. Again the penalty-killing units kept the Marlies off the board, preserving that narrow lead that Laval had as the minutes ticked away in the third period.
Finally Laval’s man advantage had the chance to work for a full two minutes with Moore sitting for slashing. While they couldn’t convert on the power play, the Rocket succeeded in grinding a few more minutes off the clock as they nursed their tenuous lead.
An errant stick from Simon Després off a late faceoff clipped a Marlies forward in the face, sending the Rocket to another third-period penalty kill, their biggest of the day. Despite their heroic efforts earlier in the game, the Rocket penalty kill could not snuff out one more man advantage, as Mueller scored his 200th career AHL goal on the 6-on-4 power play.
The game moved to overtime, and the shifty play of Mete was on full display in the extra period — so much so that his skating forced Jordan Subban into an ill-advised cross-checking penalty.
It took only 17 seconds for the Rocket to take advantage. Després collected a loose puck and began his slow walk along the blue line, eventually passing the puck off to Belzile. Belzile quickly returned the puck, teeing up a perfect one-time chance for Despres, who blistered the shot by Kaskisuo for the game-winner.
Simon Despres with an absolute laser from the point wins it in overtime for the Rocket. pic.twitter.com/i3hqNad47p— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 8, 2018
Next up for the Rocket is their chance at redemption as they’ll meet the Belleville Senators on the 12th of December, looking to erase the memory of Friday’s loss.
1. Simon Després (1 Goal)
2. Jeremy Bracco (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
3. Alex Belzile (1 Goal, 1 Assist)