With the first month of the season winding down, the Laval Rocket were looking to end it on a good note. Rookie Cayden Primeau backstopped them to a shootout win over the Providence Bruins on Saturday after the Rocket had fallen in overtime the night before to the Wolf Pack. The final game of October was not an easy one on Wednesday night either, as they faced Hartford, a team sporting an 8-0-1 record, once again.
The Rocket were the beneficiary of some call-up luck as the Wolf Pack were without several of their top stars who were recalled to the New York Rangers. Still standing in their way was the AHL’s best netminder, Igor Shesterkin. With a 5-0-0 record, 1.18 goals-against average, and sparkling .955 save percentage, the Russian goalie was a stern test for a team struggling to score at even strength. The Rocket countered with Charlie Lindgren, who was not off to the start he imagined this year, but had played well in Friday’s loss to the same club.
The Rocket had the first major opportunity to make an impact with Sean Day sent to the box for hooking Lukas Vejdemo, putting Laval on a power play just two-and-a-half minutes into the contest. The Wolf Pack stifled the man advantage, limiting them to just a single shot on net, and one that did not trouble Shesterkin in the slightest.
While Hartford started to take control of the flow of play, a Ty Ronning penalty sent them right back to the penalty kill, and the Rocket took full advantage. A pair of chances by Matthew Peca and Charles Hudon were fended off by Shesterkin, but the Rocket broke through moments later. Hudon laid a pass off for Phil Varone, who put a shot on net, and Michael McCarron jumped on the short rebound to poke home his first goal of the year.
Big Mac Power Play Attack— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 30, 2019
1-0 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/hIIy5kNbrw
The Rocket nearly doubled their lead late in the period when Vejdemo and Nikita Jevpalovs snuck in behind the Wolf Pack defenders. A puck trailed in with them and Vejdemo tried one move too many, while Jevpalovs could not clean up the rebound. The attack continued as the final minute approached, with Jevpalovs and others firing a barrage of shots on the Hartford net, but they couldn’t bury a second goal before the horn went for the first intermission.
The second period started much like the first ended, with the Rocket on the attack, but Hartford adjusted quickly and began to spend more time circling through the Rocket zone. Laval’s defence did well to limit the chances on Lindgren and keep the one-goal lead intact.
Hartford nearly knotted the game up with a little over six minutes gone when Gabriel Fontaine burst into the offensive zone, leaving Noah Juulsen scrambling to cover him and forcing Lindgren into a big stop. On the same sequence, Ryan Poehling hooked down a Wolf Pack forward, handing them their first power play of the game, but the aggressive Rocket penalty-killers kept their goalless streak going, handling the advantage with ease.
Following an unsuccessful power play, the Rocket almost found another goal anyway. Vejdemo picked off a pass in the neutral zone and fluttered a perfect saucer pass to Joe Cox, who could not get all of his shot. A miscommunication between Gustav Olofsson and Poehling left Tim Gettinger alone in front of the Rocket net moments later, and he had no problem finishing off Steve Fogarty’s pass to tie the game at one goal apiece.
A late hooking call on Boo Nieves provided Laval with their fourth man advantage of the game, but again they could not convert before the end of the period.
The special teams were called back into action in the third, as first an interference call against Otto Leskinen and then a tripping call against Charles Hudon handed Hartford more opportunities.
The penalty kill was once again flawless, and with play returned to even strength, it was Alexandre Alain who broke the deadlock. A great drive to the net, and even better tenacity to fight off a Hartford defender, allowed the sophomore forward to squeak his shot by Shesterkin and put Laval back into the lead.
Great power move and finish by Alexandre Alain, his second of the year gives the Rocket a 2-1 lead! pic.twitter.com/hQu7f2qtVG— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 31, 2019
The Rocket attack continued less than two minutes later with Hudon making up for his penalty by streaking into the zone and ripping a shot for his third goal of the year.
Charles Hudon flies into the zone and snipes one by Igor Shesterkin!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 31, 2019
3-1 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/OpXOQ4BcQj
Even with the two-goal lead, the Rocket were not out of the woods. A hooking penalty against Olofsson put the penalty kill to the test again, which the Rocket had to manage without Varone, who left the ice after jamming his wrist on the faceoff, and was in clear discomfort.
The penalty-killers finished off another perfect night, running out a fourth minor, and Jevpalovs added an empty-net goal to seal the deal with 1:47 left to play.
It was an impressive showing from the Rocket, who handed Hartford their first regulation loss of the year, and have not surrendered a power-play goal since their second game of the season.
Closing out October on a two-game winning streak is a great morale booster for the Rocket, but they’ll see the Wolf Pack to kick off their November slate back at Place Bell on Friday night.
1. Alexandre Alain (GWG)
2. Charles Hudon (1G, 1A)
3. Noah Juulsen