After a hectic finish to 2018, whe tnhe Laval Rocket played three games in three nights, they were right back at it again, playing their division rival, the Belleville Senators, once again. Last week the Rocket dropped a 6-4 decision to the Sens, due in part to some questionable officiating down the stretch.
The Rocket were still without Noah Juulsen, but also added Michael McCarron and Hunter Shinkaruk to the injured list for this game. Hayden Verbeek drew back into the lineup for Shinkaruk, while Byron Froese returned from his injury. Last week’s goaltending hero, Connor LaCouvee, got the start for Laval again, squaring off with Fillip Gustavsson for the Senators at the other end.
The start very much matched the level of health for both lineups, as only one shot made it on net in the opening four minutes. The Rocket handed Belleville the first power play of the game after Alex Belzile was called for hooking. They did manage to generate more shots on goal (one) than their opponents on that power play, which the Rocket penalty kill easily fended off.
The Rocket’s fourth line would draw a penalty of their own after they hemmed the Senators in their own end and Boston Leier interfered with Michael Pezzetta along the boards. On that power play they then forced Stuart Percy into a hooking call, giving them a big two-man advantage.
It took 13 seconds for Laval to capitalize, with Daniel Audette feeding a pass to Froese, who wired it off the post and in for a 1-0 lead.
Welcome back Byron Froese, the Rocket captain gets his 11th of the year on the power play. pic.twitter.com/J8RqS4i43S— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 3, 2019
A Pezzetta penalty wouldn’t slow down the Rocket in the first period as they piled on the shots, and before long Andrew Sturtz and Erik Burgdoerfer combined to give Laval another 5-on-3 power-play chance. Again it wouldn’t take long for the Rocket to score, with Belzile one-timing a Froese pass to double the advantage for his team.
Alex Belzile fires home a Byron Froese pass, Rocket up 2-0 on the Senators. pic.twitter.com/j7wfZEWPAP— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 3, 2019
A late Nikita Jevpalovs penalty still didn’t result in Belleville generating even a shot on net, and the two sides headed into intermission with Laval in total control of the game.
As the two sides battled in the second for control of momentum, the suddenly infallible Rocket man advantage had another chance to add a third goal, this time courtesy of Burgdoerfer taking another interference penalty. While the Rocket didn’t add another marker, they added a third tally shortly after the penalty expired.
Verbeek jumped on the ice for a change, and got behind the Senators’ net to swipe the puck from Belleville’s captain. He gave Antoine Waked a tap-in for his first goal of the year.
Hayden Verbeek comes flying in on the forecheck and swipes the puck from Erik Burgdoerfer, Antoine Waked finishes the play off for his first goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/qCGbU7183L— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 3, 2019
Penalties continued to pile up as the period wore on, and after offsetting minors to Joseph Labate and Cale Fleury, the Senators finally bested LaCouvee to break his shutout bid.
Laval still held firm control of the game, despite the late goal, and headed into the second intermission with double the shots of their opponent.
The Rocket were content to contain the Senators to start the final period, and were doing that well to start, but an Adam Plant tripping penalty sent them back to the penalty kill. Laval killed off the minor penalty, but as Plant stepped out of the box to rejoin the play, Gabriel Gagne tallied his second of the night, cutting the Rocket lead to one goal with plenty of time left to play.
Belleville continued the undisciplined play of their own, with Andrew Sturtz being sent off for a holding penalty. However, after lighting the lamp earlier in the game, the Rocket man advantage was disjointed and failed to generate much pressure on the Senators at all.
The Senators still couldn’t get their offence in gear as the clock ticked away, and a poor turnover by Drake Batherson sealed their fate. Batherson lost the puck in the neutral zone, and Alexandre Grenier poked it over to Lukas Vejdemo. The duo broke in on net and Vejdemo chipped a perfect pass for Grenier, who finished with style on his backhand for a much needed insurance goal.
Lukas Vejdemo with the nice chip and Alexandre Grenier finishes with aplomb.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 3, 2019
4-2 Rocket pic.twitter.com/FHXi34as5l
Grenier’s goal would be all the Rocket needed, as they ran out the clock for the two-goal victory. Laval will be back on Place Bell ice on Friday and Saturday as they open a two-game series with the Rochester Americans.
Final Score: Laval 4, Belleville 2
1. Byron Froese (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
2. Gabriel Gagne (2 Goals)
3. Daniel Audette (2 Assists)