The Laval Rocket came into Wednesday night’s showdown with the Belleville Senators as the AHL’s hottest club, having won six straight games, and earning points in seven straight. Conversely the Senators were on a miniature run of their own, going 3-0-1-0 in their previous four games, but still lagging well behind the Rocket in the North Division standings. They were led by the youthful trio of Drake Batherson, Vitaly Abramov, and Josh Norris, all of whom were playing well in spite of poor goaltending behind them.
The Rocket were riding this winning streak on the back of incredible goaltending from Cayden Primeau and Charlie Lindgren, the former getting the start on Wednesday night.
While the goalies are securing points for the Rocket, their depth forwards stepped up in the absence of established players. Lukas Vejdemo proved his worth while Ryan Poehling was recalled to Montreal, and with Poehling returning for the game against the Senators, the Swedish centre had even more motivation to continue his efforts.
It was not the start Laval was looking for as they struggled to break out of their own zone in the opening minutes. When they finally managed to get a handle on things, they went to the penalty kill on a Charles Hudon tripping call.
The Rocket penalty-killers were unfazed by the situation, as Vejdemo attacked the Senators’ defenders with the puck in their own end, snagging possession in the process. As he cut back, the puck was knocked off his stick right to Kevin Lynch, who made a strong move to the net and sniped one by Marcus Hogberg to put Laval in the lead.
Lukas Vejdemo attacks aggressively on the PK and forces a turnover, Kevin Lynch snipes a shorthanded goal as a result.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 14, 2019
1-0 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/21X6msgiyT
The Rocket’s lead nearly doubled as Hudon exited the box, but Hogberg denied him as well as Gustav Olofsson in short order to avoid an early two-goal deficit.
A lazy offensive-zone penalty by Batherson put Laval on their first power play of the game, and unlike the Senators, the Rocket took full advantage.
Wave one generated plenty of heavy pressure between Alex Belzile and Jake Evans, but it was the second unit that struck gold. Riley Barber, in his first game back from injury, won the draw to Otto Leskinen, who in turned fed the puck across the zone to Hudon. The winger was given space to walk in, and wired his shot by Hogberg to double Laval’s lead just past the halfway point of the period.
Charles Hudon rips home his sixth goal of the year on the power play.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 14, 2019
2-0 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/Le0NT9dj1y
With a more secure lead, the Rocket turned up the physicality, landing solid body contact on anything in a red sweater, and that physical play earned them another power play as Frank Corrado was caught retaliating to one of the hits. While the Rocket did not convert on that man advantage, Maxime Lajoie gave them the chance to try again shortly after, but the Rocket would cut that power play short thanks to a Michael McCarron slashing penalty to take the teams into the first intermission at even strength.
The Rocket were put on notice instantly to start the second period, as the Senators attacked quickly and Max Veronneau slipped his coverage to direct home an Alex Formenton pass to make it a 2-1 game. Then, with Noah Juulsen in the box, the Senators struck again, with Josh Norris pausing, then rifling a shot right through Primeau to knot the game at two goals each.
The teams continued to trade minor penalties from there, with Nikita Jevpalovs sitting for a slash, then Morgan Klimchuk sat for the Senators, and finally Alex Formenton was whistled for a dangerous cross-check that left a Rocket player slow to get up after slamming into the boards. While the power plays helped to reinvigorate the Rocket attack, they did not bring goals. The play returned to even strength with Laval looking to get back to their successful first-period game plan.
Vejdemo again nearly engineered a goal as he beat the Belleville defence to a loose puck in the neutral zone and raced off uncontested. He was hooked and ended up drawing a penalty shot for his troubles, presenting him another chance to leave his mark on the game. He broke in and deked across the crease, but was denied by a sprawling Hogberg, and the period finished shortly after with the teams tied at two.
Lukas Vejdemo earns a penalty shot, is denied by a great save from Marcus Hogberg. pic.twitter.com/UDKnpaTrUB— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 14, 2019
The Rocket struggled to get their legs going early in the third period and it ended up costing them on the scoreboard once again. A poor defensive change left just a single man back to defend Christian Jaros and Abramov, and it was the latter who toe-dragged around Brook before beating Primeau to put Belleville on top 3-2.
The power play was given another shot to make an impact with Corrado sent off for hooking five minutes into the period. The Rocket man advantage broke through to tie the game up, and it was Hudon doing the damage again. Matthew Peca fed a perfect cross-ice feed to him to blast a one-timer by Hogberg.
Charles Hudon gets his second power play goal of the night.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 14, 2019
Rocket tie the game 3-3! pic.twitter.com/cJEXBxckMr
The Senators took the lead back with under six minutes to play after a shot hit Noah Juulsen and bounced right to Batherson, who slid it five hole on Primeau.
After a late power play couldn’t convert, it seemed like the Rocket’s winning streak was bound to end in regulation. However, with 1:05 left to play, Hudon took a feed from Barber and uncorked a wicked wrist shot to finish the hat trick and force overtime.
The overtime period didn’t last long as Formenton took advantage of some shoddy coverage by Leskinen in his own zone and neatly tucked the puck by Primeau to grab the win for Belleville, by a final score of 5-4.
The loss snaps the Rocket’s winning streak, but keeps their point streak very much alive for the time being, now at eight games (6-0-2). Next on the docket for Laval is a back-to-back with the Milwaukee Admirals and Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Friday and Saturday at Place Bell.
1. Alex Formenton (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
2. Charles Hudon (3 Goals)
3. Vitaly Abramov (1 Goal)