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Rocket @ Wolf Pack recap & highlights: Brilliant defensive showing goes for naught in OT loss

The Rocket played a sound game, but lost their lead late in Hartford.

Club de Hockey Canadien

After a three-game winning streak last week, it’s been tougher sledding for the Laval Rocket of late. On Wednesday night they fell behind by three goals, and despite a furious comeback in the final 30 minutes were unable to best the Belleville Senators on the road. Next on their plate was the Hartford Wolf Pack, who were unbeaten in regulation in their first six games. The dynamic duo of Filip Chytil and Vinni Lettieri paced the Wolf Pack with eight and seven points, respectively, while rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin led the way in net.

The Rocket welcomed Noah Juulsen back to the lineup after a long injury- and illness-related lay off. He replaced Maxim Lamarche on the second defensive pair, while Dale Weise was a healthy scratch for Michael Pezzetta. Charlie Lindgren got the start, facing his brother Ryan in the contest.

While the Wolf Pack registered the first legitimate chance on net, the work of Phil Varone in the offensive zone ended up drawing the first penalty of the game, and gave Laval an early chance to unleash their potent power play. Hartford kept the formiadable man advantage in check, and shortly after that Kevin Lynch was called for hooking Ryan Lindgren, now putting the Rocket’s top ranked penalty kill to work.

The Rocket goaltender was more than up to the task against the Wolf Pack attack, whipping out a pair of glove saves to deny the Hartford shooters of a goal.

After a few more penalties to each team, the period ended without much real fanfare. Hartford held a slight edge in shots, but both teams looked a bit more conservative in their attack in the opening 20 minutes, at least compared to some of Laval’s recent games.

A tenative start highlighted the opening minutes of the second period. Every Hartford rush or shot was swept away by Laval’s defenders before the Wolf Pack could come close to following up on them. Riley Barber created the best chance in the opening minutes, breaking in on a rush, stumbling, but still getting a great chance in close on Shesterkin, yet unable to solve the Russian netminder.

Mason Geertsen was sent to the box for hooking with 7:27 gone in the period, and it took just six seconds for the Rocket to finally break the deadlock. A faceoff win by Jake Evans came to Alex Belzile, who fed it to Varone, who in turn rifled his shot by Shesterkin for what looked like his first goal of the year. It had actually hit off of Ryan Poehling in front of the Hartford net, and eluded Shesterkin entirely.

Charlie Lindgren came up big on the next Hartford possession, denying the Wolf Pack an instant response after Poehling’s goal. The attack was also aided by an Alexandre Alain penalty for high-sticking, but again the Rocket penalty kill held strong and denied Hartford a tying goal. The teams continued to play at an arm’s reach, with neither side taking command of the game.

Charles Hudon almost doubled the advantage, but a sprawling Shesterkin denied him not once, but twice as the horn sounded to signal the end of the period. The Rocket led by a goal, but were down just slightly on the shot counter, 13-11 in favour of Hartford.

The third period started poorly for the Wolf Pack, first with Shesterkin seeming to injure himself on a save. After talking with the trainer for several minutes, the young goalie stayed in the game, just in time to face another power play after Ville Meskanen was called for hooking.

The Rocket couldn’t find another goal, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying, especially on the part of Lukas Vejdemo who nearly netted a marker late. Vejdemo won the battle for a loose puck in the neutral zone, slipped the puck through the defender’s legs and created a mini breakaway where he fired just wide on Shesterkin.

Heading into the final third of the period, it was Karl Alzner who made his way to the box this time, sitting for a slashing penalty. Chytil and Lettieri made Charlie Lindgren work to keep his shutout going, forcing the Rocket netminder to flick his pads out in rapid succession to deny them around the net. While Laval killed off Alzner’s minor, the Rocket then had one too many skaters on the ice, putting a very hungry power play back out on the ice with just over four minutes remaining.

The Wolf Pack had the Rocket scrambling, but the penalty kill came up big again; another flawless showing from the Laval special-teams unit. However, with 97 seconds left on the clock, Nick Ebert broke in and teed up a massive slapshot that took an odd deflection over Lindgren and tied the game up at one goal apiece.

In overtime, it looked as though the Rocket were going to solve Shesterkin for the winner, but a tripping penatly on Josh Brook put the penalty-killers in an extremely tough spot. They more than stepped up to the task, keeping Hartford from coming anywhere close to scoring a goal, and late in the kill Evans and Vejdemo sprung free into a two-on-one break. Evans fed a pass to Vejdemo, but the Swede tried to force a pass back instead of shooting, and it was broken up. On the ensuing rush, Boo Nieves drew Charlie Lindgren over, and Danny O’Regan ended up firing it into the open side during the chaos to win the game for Hartford.

Laval has a quick turnaround as they’re in Providence tomorrow for a match with the Bruins, and they’ll have a returning Michael McCarron in the lineup now that his suspension is up. They may be without Barber however, as the veteran left the game after a collision in the second period.

Three Stars

1. Danny O’Regan (1 Goal)

2. Nick Ebert (1 Goal)

3. Ryan Poehling (1 Goal)