The Laval Rocket hit the road starting this week, far away from the terrifying comforts of the Place Bell where the weight of expectation bears on the young team’s fragility with crushing results. At home they have won only eight games out of 26, second worst in the AHL. On the road, they have won nine out of 20, a relatively respectable 16th-best record in the league.
The Rocket will play their next four games on the road, with their only game this week on Saturday against the Toronto Marlies. Hopefully they can leverage this road record to string together a series of victories. They need them now as they cling on the precipice of playoff participation, with the abyss of yet another early spring lurking below. And their grip is slipping.
À partir de samedi, chaque match sera crucial pour le @RocketLaval, qui devra présenter un dossier d’environ 18-7-5 en 30 matchs pour espérer faire les séries.— Raphaël Doucet (@raphdoucet) February 1, 2018
Ça lui donnerait alors 82 points, soit le minimum de la part d’une équipe qualifiée depuis 5 ans @TheAHL... #Habs
The Rocket sit in fifth place in the North Division, 12 points behind the Utica Comets who have a game in hand for the final playoff spot. Below them, the two worst teams in the league — the Belleville Senators and the Binghamton Devils — are a mere five points away, and beckon the Rocket to join them in their parade of pathetic.
Together these three teams represent the worst teams in the AHL, localized entirely within the North Division. Making the post-season is a seemingly impossible task for a team relying heavily on six rookies in the lineup while veterans who started the season in Laval are brought in to hopelessly bail the floundering mothership in Montreal.
The Rocket have lost three in a row, five of their last seven, and seven of 10. It’s yet another painfully difficult present for the future of the Montreal Canadiens.
To come close to making the playoffs, the Rocket will need to go on about an 18-7-5 run until the end of the season. This may have proved to be too much of a challenge for the team in its strongest iteration, but with Nikita Scherbak recalled to the Canadiens, the team loses a key cog of its top line.
In addition, Yannick Veilleux will miss today’s game, which impacts the team’s top shutdown line, and Matt Taormina is a question mark, which takes out the team’s top defenceman and power-play quarterback.
This shortfall of players could not have come at a worse time. Their opponent on Saturday is the top team in the AHL, the Toronto Marlies. They are the only team to have let in fewer than 100 goals; only 85 in fact, which is 20 goals better than second best. This remarkable statistic is thanks to the two best goaltenders in the AHL right now, Garret Sparks (1.60 GAA, .944 SV%) and Calvin Pickard (1.94 GAA, .928 SV%).
The Rocket will have to overcome this massive challenge by winning with special teams. They have a good power play, but their penalty kill is the worst in the AHL. If they are able to stay out of the penalty box, and force the Marlies to take penalties, the Rocket might get a strategic advantage.
That’s easier said than done as the Rocket usually have a hard time staying out of the penalty box.
With the season hanging in the balance and their playoff hopes fading fast, the Rocket have no more room for error, and will have to beat a giant with nothing but a slingshot.