After a big win over the Cleveland Monsters on Wednesday night, the Rocket rolled into snowy Central New York for a match with the Syracuse Crunch. A strong showing by Charlie Lindgren earned the Rocket a win over the Crunch in their previous meeting this year; a game they played minus several of their veterans. The Rocket were as close to full strength as they could be with injuries at the NHL level, as just Alex Belzile was missing.
Starting in net was Keith Kinkaid, his first start since being waived earlier in the week to make room for Cayden Primeau. It was Kinkaid’s first start in the AHL since 2015 when he was a member of the Albany Devils. Playing across from him is a face he knew very well, Scott Wedgewood, who split the workload with Kinkaid during their time in Albany.
It took all of 19 seconds for the Crunch to shock the Rocket with a goal. Ross Colton and Gemel Smith took off into the Rocket zone on a two-on-one, and Smith had no problem pushing it by Kinkaid for a very early Syracuse lead.
Things only got worse from there for the Rocket and for Kinkaid as the Crunch piled on the offence in quick fashion. A shot by Cameron Gaunce appeared to hit off of Michael McCarron’s stick and over a screened Kinkaid to double the Syracuse lead. Just over a minute later, Boris Katchouk took advantage of a pileup in front of Kinkaid, coolly slotting the puck into the net for a third goal. For good measure, Cory Conacher added a fourth goal in under 15 minutes to put an exclamation point on the period.
The only way to go was up after a disastrous opening 20 minutes, and the Rocket started to right their course early in the middle frame. A pass from Jake Evans sprung Riley Barber and Xavier Ouellet on a two-on-one rush. Ouellet held the puck and rifled a low shot by Wedgewood to give the Rocket a sign of life just over two minutes into the period.
Xavier Ouellet gets the Rocket on the board, snapping this shot by Scott Wedgewood. pic.twitter.com/bEsG59gIwc— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 7, 2019
The Rocket were helped mightily by the Crunch loosening up a bit and failing to keep their discipline in check. Ben Thomas was sent to the box for boarding, and 14 seconds later he was joined by Mitchell Stephens who was called for slashing. The ensuing five-on-three man advantage breathed more life back into Laval’s offence as they cashed in thanks to another dynamic play by Barber. The forward circled to the point, then snapped off a blistering shot that Lukas Vejdemo redirected for a power-play goal.
Lukas Vejdemo gets a piece of Riley Barber's shot and the Swede has his 8th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/luyPFd6D5S— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 7, 2019
As games between these sides so often do, things devolved on the ice, with Conacher and McCarron having a lengthy chat in a scrum, and then Luke Witkowski came over to add a slash in on McCarron and was sent off. On the following power play, McCarron drew the ire of the Crunch as multiple players went after him following a whistle, and at the end McCarron and Stephens were sent to the box for roughing. Jake Evans joined them thanks to a goaltender interference call, leaving a short penalty for the Rocket to kill for the third period.
With a point still attainable, McCarron handed the control of the game right back to the Crunch to start the third. He was sent off for tripping, and a minute into the power play Conacher found the back of the net. As Conacher made his way to the Crunch bench to celebrate, he stared right at McCarron and gave him an earful, a trend that did not let up as the game wore on.
Things took an uglier turn when Michael Pezzetta was assessed a match penalty for a check to the head, a hit that will likely earn him a call from the AHL offices. The penalty resulted in a five-minute power play for the Crunch, and improbably the Rocket fended it off with little issue, but it severely hampered any hope of a real comeback while down by three goals.
Josh Brook and Daniel Walcott got into a wrestling match after Walcott wasn’t able to get at Pezzetta earlier on, and both players sat for roughing, Dale Weise joined Brook 30 seconds later thanks to a goaltender interference penalty. From there the Crunch were content to run out the clock, and Conacher to run his mouth at an agitated McCarron to close out a feisty, but lopsided game.
Laval now heads to Springfield for a showdown with the Thunderbirds, a team trending similarly to the Rocket right now. After a penalty-filled affair in Syracuse, the Rocket are facing one of the AHL’s most penalized teams, and will need to keep their composure to come away with a win on Saturday.
- It was not a great looking game for Kinkaid, but the team in front of him did little to help matters and the veteran goalie was under siege early and often.
- Missing Alex Belzile hampered the power play as well, hopefully his injury is minor because the Rocket need him badly in the lineup.