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Laval Rocket weekly preview: Rough seas ahead

Three important divisional games in four nights

Club de Hockey Canadien Inc.

Professional hockey players know how to handle adversity. It’s part of their upbringing in a very mentally and physically challenging profession. They know what to say, how to say it, and just how much of it to believe. But nobody would hold it against the Laval Rocket players if some hint of discouragement was creeping in.

They just completed their worst month of hockey under head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, dating back six seasons, by only earning six points out of a possible 22 in January.

A one week break for the AHL All-Star Classic was expected to provide them with the necessary breather to recharge, refocus, and emerge rejuvenated against the Toronto Marlies in their first game back. Instead they came out flat, and suffered their worst loss, not only of the season, but of the last four years of the Montreal Canadiens farm team.

There are 29 games remaining in the season, and 15 points separate the Rocket from the Syracuse Crunch who sit happily in the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division. The challenge is steep and the order is tall for Sylvain Lefebvre and his troops.

But the tide can turn, crazier things have happened in hockey, so each new game presents itself as yet another opportunity to start clawing back into the race.

The Challenge

The Rocket will have that opportunity this week with three intra-divisional matchups on the road, starting with the Binghamton Devils who sit at the bottom of the AHL right now.

But the Rocket will have to combat some serious adversity if they hope to turn things around.

First of all there are the call-ups to Montreal: Nikita Scherbak, Jakub Jerabek, Daniel Carr, Nicolas Deslauriers, and team captain Byron Froese. Don’t expect any of these players to be returning to Laval any time soon.

Secondly the walking wounded: Matt Taormina (upper body) and Niki Petti (lower body) are both out 2-4 weeks. Yannick Veilleux is also dealing with a knee injury. Chris Terry has been written out for Wednesday’s game as well.

In order to make up for the lack of manpower, the Rocket recruited a couple of players from the Brampton Beast to make the trip with them around upstate New York: Chris Leveille and Matt Petgrave. Both will make their AHL debuts on Wednesday.

The New Guys

Leveille is a feel good story, as he was a walk-on tryout at the Beast’s summer free agent camp last season, and impressed sufficiently to earn his first ECHL contract at the age of 29. This season he’s second in team scoring behind veteran and team captain Brandon Marino.

Petgrave is a rookie ECHL defenceman who played for the University of New Brunswick in U Sports after completing his junior career. Upon completing his degree he signed with Brampton at the tail end of last season. This season he was selected to the ECHL All-Star Game and has already had a couple of stints with the Toronto Marlies this season on a PTO, but did not play a game.

They will become the first players on a PTO contract to play a game for the Laval Rocket franchise. Willie Corrin, Etienne Marcoux, and Karel St. Laurent did not play any games while under their PTO deals.

The Droughts

One of the problems for the Rocket right now is scoring. A fairly critical element given it’s the core principle of the game.

Michael McCarron is in the midst of a career worst slump, going goalless in 18 games. He is probably the player with the brightest spotlight on him in terms of production problems, but with the team lacking any secondary scoring he will have to find a way of getting back in the points column. His linemate Jeremy Gregoire is faring no better, goalless in 15 games.

As third year players, the team would not be wrong in expecting more contribution from them on the offence, but as long as they are able to contain opposing teams’ top lines they serve their primary purpose.

Rookie Jordan Boucher has no points in nine games. Kyle Baun has no points in his last ten games. David Broll has no points in 23 games. Rookie Antoine Waked has no points in 25 games.

Simply put, beyond Adam Cracknell and Chris Terry, there is no offence coming from the forward lines. Daniel Audette and Markus Eisenschmid try to provide some secondary offence, but it’s sporadic.

And to make matters worse, Terry will miss Wednesday’s game.

The Good News

There are a few bright spots worth celebrating.

First of all Chris Terry is in a heated race for top scorer in the American Hockey League, two points back of Chris Bourque. He finished second in the league last season as part of the St. John’s IceCaps. The last time a member of the Montreal Canadiens farm team won the AHL scoring title was during the 1988-89 season when Stéphane Lebeau tore up the League with 134 points in 78 games.

Secondly there has been some interesting progression in defenceman Tom Parisi’s game. From struggling to get into the lineup last season in his rookie season to a steady top four role this season, Parisi has become one of the better puck handlers for the Rocket this season.

And finally where would this team be without the incredible contribution of top line centre Adam Cracknell with his nine goals in the last ten games, and 28 points overall in 40 games with the Rocket.

The Schedule

Wednesday, Feb 7, 7:05 pm, @ Binghampton Devils

  • Rocket have 2-1-1-0 record against the Devils this season so far
  • Devils have third worst offence in the AHL
  • Second most goals allowed at home, ahead of Laval who has the worst home record
  • Zach Fucale will get the start for Laval

Friday, Feb 9, 7:00 pm, @ Utica Comets

  • Rocket are 1-3-0-1 against the Comets this season
  • Special teams among the best in the AHL
  • Undefeated in regulation in their last ten games

Saturday, Feb 10, 7:00 pm, @ Syracuse Crunch

  • Rocket are 3-2-0-0 against the Crunch this season
  • Crunch have worst powerplay at home in the AHL, with a mere 9.9%
  • Michael Bournival will be back in the lineup for the Crunch

Where to watch/listen

All Rocket games are broadcast on 91.9 Sports and streamed live on AHLlive.com.