When the Laval Rocket shut out the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last weekend, it looked like the perfect launching point for another lengthy win streak. However, against a now Sheldon Keefe-less Marlies side on Wednesday, they managed just one point, dropping the game in overtime. The team played well, but lacked a bit of finish in the loss to their rivals. Perhaps more concerning, they also lost star forward Alex Belzile to a dirty hit from behind.
Noah Juulsen did return to the lineup, and at a perfect time as the Utica Comets strolled into town boasting an offence capable of exploding at any second. Reid Boucher was leading the AHL in goals with 13 on the year, but opposing him in net for the Rocket was rookie sensation Cayden Primeau who was among the league’s best at stopping pucks this year.
The Rocket grabbed the first good chance of the game when Jake Evans collected a pass from Anton Waked and broke in on a short breakaway. Zane McIntyre stood tall, fighting off Evans’s shot with his shoulder to keep it scoreless.
That was not the case for long as a hooking call on Maxim Lamarche put Laval on an early penalty kill. After fending off a few prime looks, the Rocket left a bit too much space and Francis Perron jumped all over a rebound that he tucked by a sprawling Primeau to make it 1-0 Utica.
The Rocket had a power play of their own after Dylan Blujus was caught hooking a Laval forward behind the play, but without Xavier Ouellet, Charles Hudon and Belzile, the man advantage was lacking bite. The power play wasn’t able to convert, but it did breathe some life back into the Rocket, helping them overcome a sluggish start.
Before the period was over, Laval finally found the back of the net thanks to a big solo effort from Josh Brook. The rookie defender picked up a puck with speed through the neutral zone, flying into Utica’s end and leaving Jalen Chatfield scrambling to get over to cover him. Brook snapped off a quick wrist shot that flew by McIntyre and tied the game wiith about three minutes left in the first.
Josh Brook flies in and rips his third goal of the year! pic.twitter.com/XMuz0LUYTi— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 23, 2019
After another man advantage failed to make a big impact, at even strength the Rocket got the job done once again. An offensive-zone draw came to Juulsen, who flung a pass across the zone to Gustav Olofsson. He found Riley Barber all alone, and the veteran forward fired a shot off Michael McCarron in front, making it 2-1 Rocket.
Riley Barber gets his second of the year and it's 2-1 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/mBO8Ff0Wrq— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 23, 2019
Laval had to jump back on the penalty kill shortly after as Kevin Lynch was whistled for tripping with nine minutes gone in the period. After allowing a power-play marker in the first period, the penalty-killers locked down the Comets, and generated a few scoring chances of their own.
Out of the box, Lynch threaded a perfect two-on-one pass to Ryan Poehling, who was denied by McIntyre at the goal line. Poehling followed that up by working out of the corner for another great look.
With the period almost over, the Comets flipped the puck out of their zone to relieve the pressure, and Lamarche went back to collect it. He quickly turned and fired a long stretch pass up to NIkita Jevpalovs, who in turn went across the zone to Barber. As Barber cut to the net he lost the puck, but Evans was there to pick it up and shovel it in to send Laval to the intermission leading by two.
Jake Evans finishes the play, making it 3-1 Rocket. pic.twitter.com/IsHtsP2TFx— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 23, 2019
Another early penalty sent the Rocket to another power play, and again they did not convert despite McCarron and Matthew Peca’s best efforts in the early going. However, as the trend had gone all night, the Rocket struck moments after their advantage expired. Otto Leskinen took a pass from Evans and waited patiently before walking off the blue line and blasting his first North American goal by McIntyre to make it 4-1.
Otto Leskinen walks in from the blue line and blasts one by Zane McIntyre, his first goal in North America.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 23, 2019
4-1 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/Onxbv4dSue
Leskinen gave one goal back though, as he took a hooking penalty, which allowed Lukas Jasek the opportunity to bury a huge rebound to get the Comets back into the game.
The Rocket did not allow that to happen as 40 seconds later, Baber finally scored a power-play marker. Just a minute after that, Poehling chipped a shot on net that sat right in the crease, and he circled the net and swatted his own chance home to make it a four-goal lead early in the third period.
Ryan Poehling follows up his own scoring chance, swatting home his fourth of the year— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 23, 2019
6-2 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/M1D83f3wC3
Some late discipline issues ended up costing the Rocket as the final minutes approached. McCarron tried to avoid contact but ran over a Comets player, and then when he was being pulled away turned and slashed him, cancelling the Rocket power play. It took just four seconds for the Comets to strike on the four-on-four situation, making it a 6-3 game. A soft boarding call on Juulsen kept the Utica advantage going, and with 19 seconds left, Jonah Gadjovich made it 6-4. Primeau kept that scoreline for the remainder of the game, and a made it a third straight game with points for Laval.
These two teams will square off again this afternoon in the annual Teddy Bear Toss game. Charlie Lindgren is the expected starter.
1. Riley Barber (One Goal, Two Assists)
2. Jake Evans (One Goal, One Assist)
3. Otto Leskinen (One Goal)