Friday W 4-2 @ Syracuse
After Wednesday night’s disappointing loss to the Belleville Senators the Rocket were in need of a good showing against another division rival, this time in the form to the Syracuse Crunch. They would have to do so without reliable top four defender Gustav Olofsson who had been recalled to the NHL, which inserted Maxim Lamarche back into the lineup. Charlie Lindgren started in net, and opposite of him for Syracuse was Scott Wedgewood.
For a team needing an early push the Rocket did just that, scoring the opening goal of the game just 45 seconds into the contest, putting them in control of the game right from the outset. A heavy shift for the Crunch turned into a hail mary clear by Karl Alzner that Jake Evans poked by the defence, turning it into a chance for himself. A low, hard shot from Evans beat Wedgewood through the five-hole, and put Laval into a much needed early lead.
The penalty kill, which had struggled in recent games had their hands full after Evans’ goal, as Ryan Poehling, then Antoine Waked took back to back penalties about 90 seconds apart. Multiple tipped shots were stuffed by Charlie Lindgren, including a huge sliding save to deny Ross Colton of a sure goal on a delayed call. The penalty killers did kill off both the minor penalties, keeping Laval in the lead as the first period ticked away.
Michael McCarron and Cameron Gaunce threw down their gloves, and despite an early advantage by McCarron, Gaunce landed the heavier shots in a spirited bout. The fights seemed to wake up the Crunch a bit, and Danick Martel tied the game up with 4:15 left to play after Syracuse threatened heavily in the Rocket zone.
The second period was more in the Rocket’s favour, as they piled on a pair of goals in quick succession late in the period to put Laval in control of the game heading into the third period. The first goal came shortly after Dale Weise and Cory Conacher’s matching minor penalties expired, and the suddenly red-hot Riley Barber was the man on the spot again. Matthew Peca drove hard to the net, then one-handed a pass across to Barber who easily finished the play, netting his fifth goal of the year.
The team did not have to wait long to increase their lead, less than three minutes in fact as the bottom six lines went to work again. Lukas Vejdemo and Alexandre Alain entered the zone with numbers, Vejdemo left the puck off for Alain, who in turn wristed a shot by Wedgewood. That made it a two goal Laval lead, one they held into the second intermission.
Syracuse poured the offensive pressure on heavy in the third period, and found an early goal through Mitchell Stephens to add some urgency to the game for Laval. However, Lindgren stood tall from there, turning away a hefty Crunch attack, while the Rocket managed just three shots in the final 20 minutes. One of them though found the back of the empty net through Lukas Vejdemo while the Rocket were shorthanded due to a Kevin Lynch penalty.
The win stopped a two-game losing skid for the Rocket, and more importantly the penalty kill went a perfect five for five in a huge win over division rival.
Saturday L 6-3 @ Springfield
If the penalty kill was a big reason for their win a day earlier, on Saturday its struggles was a major reason they lost. The Thunderbirds, the Florida Panthers AHL affiliate, went 3/5 on the power play to take the win.
Ryan Culkin made his AHL season debut replacing Noah Juulsen who played on Friday but was out of the lineup again due to migraine issues.
Laval got off to a great start when Michael McCarron tipped an Otto Leskinen point shot to beat Samuel Montembeault 9:38 into the first period.
The Thunderbirds tied the game less than three minutes later when Riley Stillman would walk down the middle of the ice and fire a shot past Cayden Primeau to make it 1-1 after one period.
The Rocket got into penalty trouble early in the second with Riley Barber and Antoine Waked taking penalties 28 seconds apart. Springfield would make no mistake on the five-on-three when Tommy Cross wired a shot past Primeau following a cross ice pass.
Then a familiar face came back to haunt the Rocket. On yet another power play, Daniel Audette fired home the rebound on a Henrik Borgstrom shot to make it 3-1.
Laval would fight back to start the third period. Ryan Poehling started the scoring 1:57 into the final period from behind the goal line, when he found that Montembeault was off his post, and took the opportunity to bank it in off the Springfield goaltender to make it 3-2. It was Poehling’s fifth of the year.
Seven seconds after Poehling’s goal, Waked was held by Stillman to put the Rocket on the power play. Just four seconds into the power play and the game would be tied 3-3. Again, a Leskinen point shot would bounce in past Montembeault, this time by Matthew Peca.
The tie would last 3:30. With Leskinen in the penalty box for interference, a scramble in front would lead to the puck finding Owen Tippett alone at the side of the net and a great effort from Primeau wouldn’t be enough as the Thunderbirds forward made no mistake to give his team a 4-3 lead.
With under eight minutes remaining, a lost faceoff would bounce right to Springfield and lead to Stillman walking in from the left point and firing another shot past Primeau to make it 5-3.
Aleksi Saarela would add an empty net goal to make it the 6-3 final. Laval had 41 shots on Montembeault, including 20 in the third period alone. Primeau made 33 saves for the Rocket and has lost two starts in a row for the first time in his professional career.
Laval comes back home for one game as they host the Cleveland Monsters on Wednesday before returning on the road for a deja-vu road trip on Friday and Saturday in Syracuse and Springfield.