Michael McNiven was 42 seconds away from the first shutout of his pro career nearly a month ago before he lost it. On Friday night in Laval, the goaltender wasn’t jinxed.
McNiven was the star for the Laval Rocket, making 38 saves for the first shutout of his pro career, while Alex Belzile scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Monsters at Place Bell. McNiven was thankful for his teammates and superstition — it can be considered a jinx to say a goaltender will get a shutout moments before he gets it, if you believe it.
“I remember one of the media guys [a month ago] said it on TV,” McNiven said. “I was just thinking in my head ‘I hope no one’s saying it this time.’”
The Rocket needed all the luck they could get against Cleveland as they were outshot 38-12. But head coach Joël Bouchard felt his team played a “smart” game.
“We didn’t self-destruct,” Bouchard said. “That’s pretty impressive to hold the fort that long against a team that kept coming. And we were just backing each other up on the ice and that’s very impressive.”
The Rocket did lose a player to injury in the contest. Forward Jake Evans took a hit along the boards in the first. He finished the period but did not return. Following the game, he left the locker room with a bruise above his left eye. Bouchard says he’s listed as “day-to-day.”
Laval has gotten a point in all but one of their games during the month of January as they chase down a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, sitting just two points out of a playoff spot. All the while, the team has lived life without starter Charlie Lindgren, relying on backups Michael McNiven and Connor LaCouvee. Bouchard doesn’t feel any pressure to make a decision on who will remain between McNiven and LaCouvee once Lindgren returns.
“I don’t need to make any decision other than manage them and let them play,” Bouchard said. “McNiven was really good. He was solid tonight.”
It wasn’t the greatest of starts for Laval, as the team needed more than half the opening period to record their first shot on goal. Despite the shot disadvantage and Evans’s injury, the Rocket led where it mattered after 20 minutes. Laval scored first thanks to a give-and-go between Alex Belzile and Alexandre Grenier. Belzile passed the puck to Grenier before driving to the net. The latter held on to the puck before finding his teammate in the slot for the goal.
“The puck bounced right in front of me so I gave it to [Grenier],” Belzile said. “I drove the net with my head down and I know he’s a great passer so I just put my stick on the ice and I didn’t even see the puck. It went right on my stick and then I tapped it in. When you go to the net, usually good things happen.”
The second period was goalless, and the Rocket were still trailing on the shot counter, but it was shaping up to be a busy night for McNiven. Through 40 minutes, the netminder was perfect, making 21 saves.
Eight minutes into the third period, McNiven made one of his flashier saves of the evening as he denied a game-tying goal from Ryan Collins.
McNiven is having himself a game. Still 1-0 Rocket about halfway through the third. Shots are 28-8 Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/QdkhDklCNg— Sarah Kossits (@skossits) January 19, 2019
The Monsters pulled their goalie for an extra attacker in the final minutes, but after a slash from defenceman Adam Clendening on the foot of a linesman, the team was without its veteran rearguard, given a game misconduct. Laval secured the victory in the final moments and McNiven was named the game’s first star with his 38-save performance.
Laval plays Cleveland in a rematch Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM.
- Michael McNiven, 38 saves
- Alex Belzile, 1G
- Alexandre Grenier, 1A