The Laval Rocket were rolling heading into Saturday night’s showdown with the AHL’s oldest club, the Hershey Bears. Laval had won three straight games but could not keep it going falling 4-2 on Saturday night in their fifth game in eight days.
There was just one lineup change, with Charlie Lindgren taking over as the starter while Cayden Primeau served as the back up. Across the ice from Lindgren was Vitek Vanecek who had struggled to start the year in the AHL, with a 4.16 goals against and .851 save percentage.
Both sides traded time in the offensive zones, but neither team jumped out to grab control of the game early on. Hershey had the first chance though, with Michael McCarron being sent to the penalty box for a tripping call, and sending the Bears to the first power play of the game. Some timely glove work by Charlie Lindgren helped to kill off the man advantage, and the Rocket netminder was called upon shortly after that to make a series of sprawling stops to keep the Bears off the board. From there things unraveled a bit, first with Erik Burgdorfer attempting to shove Charles Hudon into the stanchion, then Kale Kessy making a nuisance of himself before taking a slashing penalty.
Kessy’s lack of discipline gave the suddenly very dangerous Rocket power play a chance to open the scoring and it was the young prospects getting it done again. As Brett Leason was called for a trip leading to a delayed penalty, the Rocket flew into the zone and Alex Belzile fired a perfect seam pass to Dale Weise. The veteran forward paused for one second then slid a cross-crease feed to Ryan Poehling who settled the pass down then shovelled it by Vanecek for his second goal in as many games.
Dale Weise with a perfect feed and Ryan Poehling has a power play goal!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 19, 2019
1-0 Rocket. pic.twitter.com/cZe5zx3SHt
Riley Barber collected a handful of chances on the following power play, but was unable to double the Rocket advantage, but Laval had clearly shifted the momentum in their favour after the opening goal. From there a late desperation save by Charlie Lindgren kept Hershey off the board, and sent Laval into the first intermission with a one goal lead.
While the Rocket held the lead in the second period they were only able to hold onto it thanks to some very strong play between the pipes by Lindgren. The veteran netminder used his pads to great effect, stymieing scoring chances from the Bears at every turn. The Hershey attack finally found their tying goal thanks to some quick play between their defenders. Martin Fehervary and Connor Hobbs cycled the puck between them with Fehervary teeing up Hobbs who blasted the shot by Lindgren to knot up the game.
The slick play of Nikita Jevpalovs drew a penalty, giving the Rocket another crack at the man advantage less than 30 seconds after the Hershey goal. The man advantage had a few chances, but could not recreate the magic of the earlier shifts and the Bears escaped with the game still tied.
With the penalty killed the third line of the Rocket would strike shortly after, with the Latvian winger finding the back of the net. Lukas Vejdemo worked off the boards behind the net and fed a pass to Jevpalovs in the slot, Jevpalovs then cut to the net and quickly lifted his shot over a lunging Vanecek and put Laval back on top by a goal.
Nifty mitts by Nikita Jevpalovs for this goal!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 20, 2019
2-1 Rocket. pic.twitter.com/xXYLTmsR7V
The Bears answered back quickly on their own in the final minutes of the second period, once again tying the game. Garret Pilon spun off the half boards and picked out Joe Snively in the slot with a pass, and Snively turned and ripped a shot by Lindgren’s glove hand and tied the game once again with less than four minutes in the period.
A Josh Brook holding penalty did nothing to relieve the sudden pressure from Hershey, but the Rocket killed off the majority of the minor when the horn went to end the period, but they still had another 43 seconds left to fend off at the start of the third period.
While the Rocket were able to kill off the remainder of Brook’s minor the Bears would strike early in the period to take their first lead of the night. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby set up Brian Pinho who lifted his shot over a diving Charlie Lindgren and gave Hershey a third period lead, less than four minutes into the final frame. Just under three minutes later Otto Leskinen sent the Bears back to the power play as he was called for tripping, and putting the Laval penalty killers to the test again.
The penalty kill was up to the task once again, and when Leskinen sprung out of the box he lead an odd man rush that nearly tied the game if not for a quick blocker save by Vitek Vanecek. Following that, the Rocket duo of Ryan Poehling and Charles Hudon found plenty of zone time, and threatened the Hershey goalie, but timely blocks by the Bears defenders denied the Rocket their third goal of the game.
Liam O’Brien afforded the Rocket another chance to earn their tying goal as he took down Ryan Poehling with a trip, sending Laval to their fourth power play of the night. The Hershey penalty kill flung themselves into every shooting lane the Rocket had, and bravely killed off the power play, and kicked Laval into desperation mode as they searched for a late, tying goal.
With their net empty the Rocket unloaded everything they had at Vanecek, with Xavier Ouellet and Alex Belzile unloading massive slap shots in alternating fashion, but nothing was getting by the Hershey goalie. In the final seconds the puck finally left the offensive zone and Liam O’Brien deposited it into the vacated net and sealed the end of Laval’s winning streak.
The Rocket will be off for a few days, then head on the road to Belleville for a Wednesday night showdown with the Senators at 7:00pm.
1. Garret Pilon (1 Assist)
2. Ryan Poehling (1 Goal)
3. Christian Djoos