The Laval Rocket’s league-leading, near flawless penalty kill continues to impress.
During Laval’s 2-1 shootout victory against the Hartford Wolf Pack Friday night, the Rocket successfully killed off all five penalties they incurred during the game. Laval now boasts a 97.8% success rate when down a man.
The 4,650 fans in attendance at Place Bell gave some of their loudest cheers of the night when the Rocket killed off their final penalty of the night in overtime, where they were three men against four.
“I think everyone’s buying in,” Rocket forward Jake Evans said. “Especially in that overtime you saw guys blocking shots, selling out. Goaltending’s been great too. I think we’re all just on the same page. That’s definitely helping us win some games,”
The team has allowed just one goal while shorthanded this season, and actually has more shorthanded goals for. It’s a far cry from the last two seasons where their penalty kills ranked near the bottom of the league.
“I think we were actually not that bad last year, between you and I,” Rocket head coach Joel Bouchard said Friday night. “I think we just cracked. We let one in. I could look at some PKs where we were fine for 1:45 and then [opponents] found a way to [beat] our defencemen.”
“I don’t think we were a disaster, the way we played. Just that this year we’re executing with a little bit more maturity.”
Waked scores, fights, but no assist
Despite being close to a Gordie Howe hat-trick, Antoine Waked doesn’t mind missing it.
“It would’ve been fun to get the Gordie Howe,” Waked said following the victory. “But it’s all about the win today. I think it was a great effort by everybody.”
The Laval Rocket forward was called up from the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL earlier this week. He scored a goal and picked up a fighting major in Friday night’s win. But he was one assist short of the feat named after the legendary Detroit Red Wing.
It took nine games for Waked to score his first of the season last year, and 13 games the season before. But in the first period Friday, Waked found himself in prime position to tip a pass from Matthew Peca into the net past Wolf Pack goaltender Adam Huska.
Antoine Waked drives the net, and tips home a pass from Matthew Peca.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 2, 2019
1-0 Rocket. pic.twitter.com/znMKT0gRAJ
“We created a lot of chances today, our line, just by going to the net,” Waked said. “For me, I know I’m going to get a lot of goals if I go to the net. That’s where I’m going to score. I’m going to keep doing that.”
Waked’s fight came in the second period against defenceman Mason Geertsen, coming to the aid of Evans after he received a dangerous hit along the boards.
Evans passes off the puck, and Mason Geertsen hits him in the head anyways.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 2, 2019
He received no penalty on the play. pic.twitter.com/GPEWH2u0ir
“I didn’t really like the hit. It was right at my head,” Evans said. “But that’s hockey. The refs aren’t going to see everything and you just have to bounce back,”
Waked hit the ice first during his toe-to-toe with Geertsen.
“For my scrap, I wasn’t happy the way it went,” Waked said. “But I’m happy I showed up for Jake,”
Waked battled shoulder issues last season, while splitting time between the ECHL and American Hockey League. But the 23-year old says he’s in great shape.
“I feel 100% healthy,” he added. “It’s probably the most healthy I’ve been in the AHL,”
Belzile’s shootout goal overshadows penalty troubles
Belzile had yet to take a penalty all season before Friday, but the 28-year old found himself with eight penalty minutes during the game. Including a first period double-minor for cross checking and unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I think that was a really weird game,” Belzile said. “Emotions through the roof. Had zero PIMs before this game and I end up with eight. I think it’s obviously not a good thing. I had some stupid ones. But after the second period I tried to refresh. Even if I took one in the third, I tried to not let these things affect me. I tried to refresh and start over,”
The game got scrappy with little skirmishes between the two sides. 40 penalty minutes were accumulated between both teams when the dust settled.
But all that didn’t matter as he scored the only goal in the shootout to give his team their third straight win.
Belzile makes up for his penalties with the shootout winning goal, that's three in a row for the Rocket! pic.twitter.com/EtEUIwVKuX— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 2, 2019
“I tried to keep it simple,” Belzile said. “I just faked shot and I [went] around him. He bit on my fake shot so I was pretty happy. Sometimes if the goalie doesn’t bite you look a little foolish. But it went in, so I was pretty happy,”
Laval’s next game will be at Place Bell Saturday afternoon against the Toronto Marlies at 3:00 p.m.