After dropping a pair of one-sided games to the Toronto Marlies on Monday and Wednesday, the Rocket were back on the road to square off with the Utica Comets in a North Division matchup.
Missing from Laval’s lineup was Michael McCarron, who was recalled by the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. In response, the Rocket added Gabriel Desjardins of the Fort Wayne Komets to the roster on a PTO deal. Desjardins has 60 points in 49 ECHL games this year, making him one of the top scorers in that league.
The Rocket also added Matt Petgrave on defence, giving them a third player signed to a tryout contract on the blue line. Laval opted to start Zachary Fucale in net after Michael McNiven got the start on Wednesday night, while Utica went with Thatcher Demko between the pipes.
Despite having won just one game in their last eight, the Comets were the far more dominant team to open the game, limiting Laval to just a pair of shots on net while they added seven of their own in the opening nine minutes.
With a bit of offensive pressure, the Rocket were finally able to draw a high-sticking penalty, and had a chance to put their usually solid power play to the test. The Comets penalty kill was more than ready for the challenge, giving the Rocket almost no decent scoring chances.
Not long after killing the penalty they found the back of the net. An odd-man rush into the Laval zone led to a perfect feed across Fucale’s crease that Cameron Darcy tapped home to give Utica a 1-0 lead late in the first.
To make matters worse, not even a minute after the goal, a boarding penalty by Éric Gélinas sent to the Rocket to the penalty kill, a unit which currently ranks last in the AHL for effectiveness. In this instance however, Laval was able to dispatch the Utica man advantage with little trouble, leaving the deficit at just one goal. The 1-0 scoreline would stand through the end of the period, with Laval still looking for any sort of sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
It didn’t take long for the Rocket to find their equalizer in the second period, thanks in part to an early penalty by Wacey Hamilton. With the Comets player sitting for a slash on Chris Terry, the Rocket man advantage needed just eight second for Kerby Rychel to snipe a rebound shot past Demko to tie the game.
Kerby Rychel now has 6 goals in 9 games with Laval since being traded. pic.twitter.com/XkrpWPRwTk— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 17, 2018
The Rocket power play turned out to be key in the second goal of the period, this time with Niki Petti cashing in. A quick cycle in the Comets zone from Tom Parisi to Terry had the top point-producer letting a shot go from the point, where Demko kicked out a rebound in front of his net. Petti was right on the spot and poked the loose puck home for his fifth goal of the year, and a 2-1 lead for the Rocket.
Another power play, and another rebound goal for the Rocket.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 17, 2018
Niki Petti gets his fifth of the year. pic.twitter.com/Wu0fi6yL6L
Even a penalty to Luc-Olivier Blain couldn’t slow down the Rocket offence in the second period, as they did more damage while short-handed than the Comets did on the power play. After Jeremy Grégoire tested Demko with a wrist shot, and forced an offensive-zone faceoff, Laval found the net again. Markus Eisenschmid won the draw cleanly, and Gélinas stepped into a shot and found the back of the net for his 13th of the year.
Markus Eisenschmid wins the faceoff and Eric Gelinas blisters a shot past Demko for a shorthanded goal. pic.twitter.com/SDjUClN2hz— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 17, 2018
After Adam Cracknell was called for cross-checking, the Comets had a golden opportunity to jump back into the game. Instead they wiped out their own man advantage thanks to a Michael Carcone tripping call. While neither team capitalized during the four-on-four situation, the Rocket ended up getting an abbreviated power play to start the third.
On that power play the Comets unwisely took another penalty, and on the ensuing 5-on-3 it was Terry striking again. Some deft, one-touch passing got the puck to Terry who walked into the faceoff circle and fired a slapshot past Demko for a three-goal advantage.
Chris Terry with an absolute bullet on the power play, he's now just three points off the AHL scoring lead. pic.twitter.com/DFTkUC6yoQ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 17, 2018
Some sloppy play came back to haunt the Rocket not long afterward as a combination of penalties and miscommunication led to the Comets grabbing their second goal of the night. With a mass pileup in the Comets net, no one found the puck save for Cam Darcy, who wheeled out of the zone and turned the situation into an odd-man rush. He fed a pass behind the Rocket defender and Tony Cameranesi notched his third goal of the year.
Another Utica power play nearly found paydirt, but Fucale was in top form, lunging across his crease to steal what looked like a surefire goal. In the scrum that followed the whistle, the Rocket would again head to the power play, looking for another insurance marker.
That marker did not come for the Rocket, but some stout defensive play with the Comets net empty actually forced Utica to send Demko off the bench and into his net on the fly to prevent an empty-net goal. Some timely late saves from Fucale saw out the end of the game, giving the Rocket a well-earned victory in Utica.
The Rocket now travel to Syracuse where they’ll clash with their heated rival, the Crunch, on Saturday night.
1. Chris Terry (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
2. Zach Fucale (30 Saves, Win)
3. Cam Darcy (1 Goal, 1 Assist)