The play Laval Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard had in his mind on Wednesday night was so simple, so mundane, that it took a while to find. Even after potentially finding it, who knows if this is even the right one.
Bouchard mentioned a play on the penalty kill, where the team needed a change. He said it happened in the third period. And the reason he brought it up was because Noah Juulsen got the puck out when the team needed it out.
At the time the game was tied 1-1, and it was a point where the game could have turned. The Rocket killed the penalty — more on that later. Less than a minute after the penalty expired, Alexandre Alain scored to give the Rocket a 2-1 lead. A little over a minute later, Charles Hudon made it 3-1.
There’s a reason why it left an impression.
“At the end of the game on the penalty kill, he was strong,” Bouchard said. “The puck left the zone. It’s a situation for a coach that is so important. Sometimes for a fan they notice it but we needed a change. We needed to take them out of that situation and Noah did the job.”
“We sent the puck 200 feet probably 10 times tonight,” goaltender Charlie Lindgren said about the Rocket’s penalty kill.
Juulsen was playing in his third game of the season. He doesn’t have a point but he’s +2. He hasn’t taken a penalty and hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against. It has basically been a necessary turnaround after his struggles stemming from the injury that ended his season a year ago, and delayed the start of this season.
The way he’s putting that behind him his by keeping his game simple.
“He played like he needs to be playing.” Bouchard said about Juulsen’s play. “Shepherd’s pie. Corn, meat, and potatoes. That’s what we say in the room all the time. That’s his style of play. I’ve known Noah a long time. He keeps it simple, he stays strong with and without the puck. That’s the recipe for him. You need guys like that. You need guys that are solid, that are not complicated and keep it simple.”
“Keeping it simple has been the biggest thing for me getting back into the lineup,” Juulsen agrees. “I think I did that well again tonight just making the first play when it was there and going from there.”
“It’s an analysis that you use a lot for defencemen. It’s simple, it’s not complicated and it works,” Bouchard continued. “You go to the playoffs and they are important guys because they make plays. It’s the easiest analysis for a player to understand. Even I’m able to understand it. And it’s easy for the coaches. Sometimes we take a lot of time to complicate something that’s already working.”
Juulsen’s arrival has improved the Rocket’s defence as a whole. In the three games he’s in the lineup, the Rocket have only allowed five goals.
The penalty kill was rolling before Juulsen returned, and that has continued. Laval has played 11 games and has allowed one shorthanded goal on the season — in their second game. In 39 shorthanded chances, they have killed 38 of them. They have scored two shorthanded goals, too. Making them a net positive when a player down.
Their 97.4% on the penalty kill is naturally first in the AHL.
“That just speaks volumes to the kind of character we have in this room,” Lindgren said. “You have guys that really want to penalty kill and that says a lot about our team. As a goalie when we get a penalty you feel pretty good about our chances. That’s something we have to bring every single game, we can’t get comfortable about it. It wins us hockey games so we have to use it as our strength.”
“Our pressure has been pretty solid in our times to pick and choose when to go and then pressure there guys also blocking shots and everyone being on the same page,” Juulsen said. “I think it’s helped us succeed so far.”
“It’s fun this year, we don’t double shift some of the guys and you can get everybody in the game and we can stay fresh and be aggressive. That’s what we want,” Bouchard said about the penalty killing unit that uses almost every player in the lineup. “You don’t want to fuel the other team. We want to make it miserable for them and we have to stay on top and be very humble and making sure we stay with the plan. I think that’s the secret for me. Guys have good habits and know the plan.”