After a successful start to their week in Springfield, when the Rocket collected an overtime victory, the team trudged through a blizzard into Pennsylvania to continue their road trip. First on their list was the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, a team sitting third in the Atlantic Division and bolstered even more by the return of goalie phenom, Carter Hart. Hart, however, would only be available as the backup, and starting netminder Alex Lyon was injured, leaving ECHL call-up Branden Komm to face the Rocket.
After a few games off to continue recovering from a lower-body injury, the Rocket once again had Charlie Lindgren between the pipes. Noah Juulsen and Michael McCarron were still both are on the sidelines, but were joined by Jake Evans for this game as well, even though Evans was able to practise with the team this week.
Poor luck struck early for the Rocket, as Phillipe Myers fired a shot off of Cale Fleury and past Lindgren for an early lead.
Not even 30 seconds later, the Rocket headed to the power play, courtesy of a Colin McDonald tripping penalty. The Laval man advantage continued their trend of looking extremely dangerous, but Komm held the fort. As he left the box, McDonald nearly converted a 2-on-1 for a second Phantoms goal.
Then things got chippy. Antoine Waked leveled Mark Friedman behind the play, which in turn set off Tyrell Goulbourne. The Phantoms’ enforcer took matters into his own hands and started raining punches on Waked. In addition to preventing a breakaway for his own team, Goulbourne was hand 17 minutes in penalties, while Waked served a two-minute minor for charging, meaning Laval had a five-minute man advantage to work with.
While their first power play generated chances and forced Komm to make key saves, this five-minute one for the Rocket was disjointed and never created any sustained pressure. The five minutes tick away, and Laval missed a massive chance to pile up some goals. Both teams settled in from there, with neither side being able to find a breakthrough as the second half of the period wore on.
A goaltending error by Komm allowed Laval to finally tie the game up before the end of the period. Komm shot the puck around the boards, but it landed directly on a Rocket stick, that of Brett Lernout, and the defender buried it past a diving Komm to knot the game up with under a minute left.
Branden Komm makes an error playing the puck, and Brett Lernout takes advantage by burying his second goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/zsLU0BHW7V— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 26, 2019
After a frenetic first period, the second period seemed almost slow by comparison, with both sides playing a bit more passively now that the play was now almost entirely at even strength. Then Michael Pezzetta took a boarding penalty with roughly 10 minutes gone in the period, and with their first power play of the night the Phantoms had little issue scoring, thanks to Justin Bailey.
Mikhail Vorobyev sent Laval to another power play with an errant stick catching Xavier Ouellet, but again the Rocket man advantage wasn’t able to solve the AHL’s top-rated penalty kill.
From there it was up to Lindgren to hold the fort as the Phantoms spent most of the period occupying the Laval zone, putting plenty of dangerous shots on net. His solid play kept the deficit at just one goal as the teams headed into the second intermission.
The third period was again all about Lindgren as the Phantoms swarmed all over the Rocket defence. Encouragingly, Laval’s starting goalie showed no signs of the injury that hampered his starts against Manitoba at the start of the month. Lindgren turned away chances in close from Chris Conner and Reece Wilcox, which led to Alex Belzile being sprung on a breakaway, though that was shut down by Komm.
When the Rocket finally managed a little bit of zone time, it wasn’t for long as Belzile was called for high-sticking, sending on the Laval penalty-killers in a crucial situation. They killed off most of the penalty, and then Alexandre Alain tripped up a Phantoms forward, giving Lehigh Valley a 5-on-3 for a short period of time.
They converted not long into the two man advantage. Lindgren made the initial save on Greg Carey’s big shot, but Conner poked the loose puck over to Vorobyev, who tapped it home. After Vorobyev’s goal the Laval penalty-killers handled the rest of Alain’s penalty with no further difficulty.
A Lehigh Valley penalty for interference gave a suddenly cold Rocket power play another chance to get their team back in the game. Great puck movement led to some decent chances from Daniel Audette and Xavier Ouellet. Before the penalty was fully killed, Bailey was called for interference, giving Laval a two-man advantage of their own. With Vorobyev out of the box, Laval converted on the second Phantoms penalty, with Ouellet feeding a perfect setup pass for Byron Froese who lasered a shot by Komm.
Byron Froese gets the Rocket within a goal with this laser of a goal, his 14th of the year. pic.twitter.com/I3j0BHPYZ4— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 26, 2019
Laval eventually pulled Lindgren with just over a minute left, but even a late scramble around Komm’s net couldn’t yield a tying goal, leaving the Rocket on the losing side of the 3-2 scoreline.
They’ll head into Hershey today for a 7:00 PM showdown with the Bears to complete their Pennsylvania trip and end their set of January games.
1. Branden Komm (34 Saves, Win)
2. Mikhail Vorobyev (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
3. Phillipe Myers (1 Goal)