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Laval Rocket weekend recap & highlights: Failure to launch

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The Rocket dropped all three games this weekend, each in increasingly embarrassing fashion.

Club de Hockey Canadien Inc.

Like much of the month of March, this weekend was a busy one of the Laval Rocket who played three games in three days against the Charlotte Checkers and Belleville Senators. Thankfully they finally got a bit of good news, with rookie Jeremiah Addison making his long awaited debut, while also signing Nikita Korostelev, Johnny Austin, and Anthony Beauregard to amateur try-out deals. The team was also bolstered by the return of Charlie Lindgren between the pipes, as well as suspensions to two of Charlotte’s regular players in Warren Foegele and Josiah Didier.

Friday vs. Charlotte: 3-2 OT Loss

The Checkers are a team firmly entrenched in a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, and proved to be a very good test for a Rocket team playing entirely for pride at this point in the season. Despite a few early chances it would be the Rocket who struck first, after Charlie Lindgren made a handful of sprawling saves to deny Charlotte a goal.

Following a penalty kill the Rocket’s top line struck, with Kerby Rychel getting the puck in, and battling along the boards, From there Chris Terry took the puck and fired a perfect cross-ice pass onto the stick of Adam Cracknell who easily finished for his 24th goal of the year.

The Rocket looked to have double their lead with around four minutes left in the first period, but it was ultimately ruled no goal. Terry fired off a shot and Cracknell jumped all over the rebound, firing it off the post, but not over the line behind Alex Nedeljkovic, robbing him of his 25th goal of the year.

The second period saw the shot clock start tilting heavily in favour of the Checkers, in spite of this, and another early penalty kill it would be the Rocket getting on the board first in the period. This time it was a bit more special, as Jeremiah Addison collected his first professional goal, while tryouts Nikita Korostelev, and Johnny Austin grabbed their first pro assists as well.

A faceoff saw the puck drift back to Austin at the point who had his shot blocked down before it hit the net, Korostelev knocked the puck into open ice and Addison pounced on it, firing a ridiculous backhand shot past Nedjlkovic for his first career professional goal.

As it was so many times earlier in the year, the Rocket faltered in the third period, with Charlie Lindgren having to fend off a constant barrage from the Charlotte offence. Under a minute in Jeremy Gregoire had a golden opportunity to put a dagger in the Checkers’ back, but a strong save by Nedeljkovic denied the hard-nosed forward a third Rocket goal.

Aleksi Saarela finally broke through with just over nine minutes gone after a strong performance all game where he racked up seven total shots on net. After a deflected shot went wide Lucas Wallmark found Saarela open by the faceoff circle and threaded a perfect pass to him. Saarela then finished with a flawless one-timer and broke Lindgren’s shutout on the Checkers’ 26th shot of the game.

With just under five minutes remaining the Checkers found their tying goal on the stick of Lucas Wallmark, spoiling what was an outstanding performance from Lindgren thus far. Then in overtime it would be Wallmark once again, as he converted a Janne Kuokkanen set up into his 16th goal of the year, and completing the comeback for Charlotte.

Three Stars

1. Aleksi Saarela(1 Goal)
2. Lucas Wallmark (2 Goals, 1 Assist)
3. Jeremiah Addison(1 Goal)

Saturday vs. Charlotte: 5-3 Loss

The Rocket made just two changes for the rematch on Saturday. Charlie Lindgren was given the day off, with Zachary Fucale starting and Michael McNiven backing him up. Also David Broll drew into the lineup while Jeremiah Addison was a healthy scratch as the team monitors his fitness levels after a long injury layoff. For the Checkers, Alex Nedeljkovic got the start again, while Warren Foegele drew in after his suspension, and former Hamilton Bulldog enforcer Zack Stortini also made his way into the Checkers’ lineup.

A quick start for the Rocket was once again stopped in it’s tracks by a well balanced Charlotte offence, which racked up five shots on net before Laval managed one of their own. Even then it was the Checkers who notched the first goal in the game, with Wallmark continuing his domination of the Rocket, this time with a perfect pass to Aleksi Saarela who was left uncovered at the side of the net, and tapped home his 22nd of the year.

Laval nearly evened the score shortly after with Jordan Boucher and Niki Petti breaking in on a two-on-zero rush, and despite the smooth passes between the two they couldn’t solve the Charlotte netminder. Before the period was over, Zach Fucale would be called upon to make a massive pair of saves. First on Julien Gauthier, and the second on Janne Kuokkanen. His desperation saves were the only thing keeping the game at a one goal difference through 20 minutes.

An early second period power play saw the best chance fall on the stick of Jeremy Gregoire who broke in as part of a 2-on-1 chance, and after having his initial shot stopped, his wraparound went just wide of the open net. After said penalty kill the Rocket had a pair of breakaway chances, with Markus Eisenschmid ringing a shot off the post, and Chris Terry missing the net high and wide.

Unfortunately for Laval, the Checkers would soon find another goal after dominating for most of the second period. Wallmark added to his point total this weekend with a shot through traffic, that Greg McKegg tipped past Fucale for a 2-0 lead. It would take just over two minutes for them to add another goal, this time Andrew Poturalski’s shot leaked through Fucale’s pads and slowly into the net, making it a seemingly unconquerable 3-0 game. Before the period came to an end it would be Nedeljkovic who shut the door, this time on a prime chance by Anthony Beauregard right in front of his net.

Things didn’t get much better to start the final period, as Andrew Poturalski tallied his second of the game less than two minutes in and all but sealed a win for the Checkers.

Jeremy Gregoire managed to breakout Nedeljkovic’s shutout bit just over three minutes into the period. Simon Bourque let the shot fly, and some deft hands by Gregoire allowed him to tip the puck on net, and finish off his own rebound to make it 4-1.

While Laval seemed to have spurred themselves into attempting a comeback, the Checkers would stomp it out rather quickly. With Johnny Austin sitting for slashing it would take Charlotte just eight seconds to find the back of the net, with Aleksi Saarela finding the back of the net once again.

Chris Terry continued his quest for the AHL scoring lead late in the, and grabbed another assist on the power play. He threaded a perfect cross-ice feed and Kerby Rychel settled it down, and then ripped a snipe past a sprawling Nedeljkovic.

Just over two minutes later, and on the power play once again the Rocket struck to cut the deficit to two goals. Chris Terry passed off to Matt Taormina who fired a perfect slap pass to Adam Cracknell who redirected it home for his 25th goal of the year.

That would be as close as the Rocket got however, as a strong defensive effort in the final two minutes by the Checkers prevented Laval from even entering the offensive zone. In a scary moment at the end of the game, Adam Cracknell looked to be tripped up and went face-first into the end boards. He was noticeably labouring during the final moments of play.

Three Stars

1. Aleksi Saarela (2 Goals, 1 Assist)
2. Andrew Poturalski (2 Goals)
3. Nicolas Roy (7 shots)

Sunday vs. Belleville: 8-2 Loss

Charlie Lindgren was left on the hook for all eight goals against, which included a shorthanded marker and two power play goals as Laval’s lack of discipline came back to bite them once again. Opposite of Lindgren was Filip Gustavsson who faced 39 shots, and turned away all but two of them in his North American debut for the Senators.

In good news for the game, Chris Terry continued his march towards an AHL scoring title with a primary assist on Kerby Rychel’s 18th goal of the year. When the Senators turned the puck over along the boards in the offensive zone, Terry jumped all over it and found a wide open Rychel with a pass. Moments later his 18th goal of the year was in the back of the net, and Terry sat just one point off the AHL scoring lead.

The Rocket then followed this goal up by surrendering a shorthanded goal to Colin White, and despite the shot advantage, the goal killed any momentum the Rocket had built up at that point. Then with Eric Gelinas in the box for crosschecking Ville Pokka would give the Senators the lead with a power play goal.

Things didn’t get much better in the second period as Jeremiah Addison and Yannick Veilleux took back to back penalties, and on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play Pokka added another goal to further the Belleville lead.

Laval momentarily stopped the bleeding with under six minutes remaining with a power play tally of their own, as Cracknell grabbed his 26th goal of the year. Cracknell won the draw back to Gelinas on the point, who fed the puck across to Taormina, who in turn put a perfect slap pass toward Cracknell at the side of the net. It was a perfectly executed play that took just five seconds to put the puck in the net. Unfortunately that would be the end of the positives for Laval.

It would all come crashing down in the final 20 minutes when Addison took a late penalty for hooking and before he could get back in the play following a penalty kill Christian Jaros added a fourth Sens goal. Then they piled on four more goals in the third, including three in under four minutes to end the lopsided affair.

The Rocket have been officially eliminated from playoff contention. Even with that, this was still arguably their ugliest performance of the season, moreso than the brutal defeat in Toronto not long ago as at least the Marlies are a top AHL team. Losing this badly to a team below them in the standings is unacceptable, even with the harsh March schedule. There isn’t much left in the season, so at the very least the team should be playing hard to help get the veterans in Terry and Cracknell to their major milestones.

Three Stars

1. Ville Pokka (3 Goals, 1 Assist)
2. Filip Gustavsson (37 Saves, Win)
3. Colin White (1 Goal, 2 Assists)