For the first time in a few weeks, the Laval Rocket had one of their top two goaltenders back between the pipes, as Michael McNiven returned to the fold against the Rochester Americans. Still missing, however, were Michael McCarron, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Noah Juulsen, and it is expected they won’t be back this weekend either.
Thankfully, the return of Byron Froese brought the power play back to life, as the captain was the catalyst in a 4-2 win over Belleville earlier this week.
As is the case most times when these two teams play, chances were traded back and forth in an evenly matched affair. Justin Bailey rang a shot off the iron for the Americans, while Nikita Jevpalovs did the same for the Rocket, but neither shot bounced the right way as the game remained goalless.
Rochester gained the game’s first man advantage when Phelix Martineau fired a puck out of play over the glass for a delay of game penalty. McNiven and the penalty-killers did another fantastic job, giving up just a single shot to a potent Rochester power play in a key situation.
Laval then headed to a power play of their own thanks to a Brendan Guhle high-sticking penalty, and it was not a pretty special-teams display at first. Laval gave up a few short-handed rushes in the opening minute, including another great look by Bailey. When the Rocket did establish control in the Amerks’ end, they nearly scored, with Alex Belzile finding iron off a Xavier Ouellet blocked shot.
Laval found the back of the net first though, and they did so in the dying seconds of the period. A Maxim Lamarche shot went wide around the net, and along the left boards David Sklenicka stepped in and blistered a shot into the far side of the net for his second goal of the year.
David Sklenicka with a wicked slap shot to open the scoring with just two seconds left in the period. pic.twitter.com/F4Kqhv2F8S— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 5, 2019
Early-second-period pressure by the Amerks was immediately halted after Andrew MacWilliam tripped up Martineau on a dump in, sending the Rocket to their second power play of the game. Despite maintaining zone time with ease, this time the Rocket could not find a second goal.
From there, McNiven took over the game, denying Wayne Simpson and Guhle on high-danger chances close to his net, including a lunging blocker save on a 2-on-1 chance.
Rochester immediately handed Laval another power play, with Dalton Smith taking out McNiven’s legs by the net. The power play finally found paydirt on the third attempt, thanks to Belzile ripping home a goal afer Daniel Audette fed him the puck in the slot area.
MacWilliam had shoved Jake Evans into the net causing it to come off its pegs as the puck entered the net. The officials reviewed it, but the puck was clearly in before the net moved, and Belzile had his seventh goal of the year.
AHL All-Star Alex Belzile scores his seventh of the year just before the net comes off it's moorings. pic.twitter.com/NqYAwCuysk— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 5, 2019
Even with Laval taking momentum to end the period, the Amerks tied things up in the final minute of the second. Danny O’Regan broke in to set up near the net, but a pass his way from Judd Peterson hit the inside of the post instead of O’Regan’s stick, giving Peterson his first goal of the season just before the intermission.
The third period was non-stop action at both ends of the ice, as the Rocket and Amerks both created chances around the net, but both Wedgewood and McNiven turned away every puck directed at them. Laval came especially close when Michael Pezzetta had a wide-open look, but fanned on his one-time attempt.
Rochester was the far more dominant side as the minutes ticked away on the clock. Strong play from McNiven in net, and timely blocks from his defenders, kept the score tied as the period reached its conclusion.
The teams would need extra time to sort this game out, despite the Amerks’ late shot clock domination. Three-on-three overtime brought plenty of exciting moments, perhaps none more than McNiven’s lunging, cross-crease glove save to rob Rochester of a goal.
Oh my god what a save by Michael McNiven! pic.twitter.com/9aoryUJgSv— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 5, 2019
A shootout was needed to determine a winner in what was a night filled with action, right to the end. The Amerks came out on top after five shooters, thanks to goals from Wayne Simpson and Alexander Nylander, while only Belzile scored for the Rocket.
Final Score: Rochester 3, Laval 2 (SO)
The teams will meet again on Saturday afternoon in what will surely be another closely contested affair.
1. Zach Redmond (1 Assist)
2. Victor Olofsson (4 Shots)
3. Daniel Audette (1 Assist)