On the heels of their fifth straight loss, the Laval Rocket headed out to Belleville for the second half of a home-and-home series on Saturday, hoping to end the weekend on a high note.
However, whatever motivation the team might have had while taking the five-hour drive from Laval to Belleville was certainly shaken with the afternoon announcement that the Montreal Canadiens traded Rocket captain Byron Froese and veteran defenceman David Schlemko to Philadelphia for Dale Weise and Christian Folin. The Rocket were already struggling with their forward depth, and now they were facing a new reality without their respected leader, and icing nine rookies in the lineup.
It was a difficult start for Laval as Alex Belzile took a delay of game penalty within the first instants of the game, and the Senators maintained possession in the Rocket zone for a full minute and a half until finally Stefan Elliott put the puck past Michael McNiven to give the Senators a quick early lead.
The Senators continued to push the pace, especially the outstanding top line for the Senators of Drake Batherson, Nick Paul, and Logan Brown, who were clearly heads above everyone else on the ice all game long.
Things went from bad to worse when Hunter Shinkaruk was driven, legally, into the boards by defenceman Jordan Murray, and left a pool of blood on the ice as he left the game to get stitches on the bridge of his nose, leaving the Rocket to fend off the Senators with only 11 forwards for the remainder of the game.
The Rocket had an opportunity to go on the power play after a cross-checking call on Cody Goloubef, but the man advantage yielded no results. The Senators top line immediately put the team up by two goals shortly after killing the penalty.
Belleville essentially dominated the Rocket in every aspect of the game in the first period, including physically as Darren Archibald filled David Sklenicka into the boards in an almost cartoon-like collision as Sklenicka’s stick went flying into the air and both feet were up in the air as he came crashing down hard onto the ice. He finished off his shift looking a bit dazed, but alert.
The puck went the other way, and on only their fourth shot of the period, Michael Pezzetta managed to knock the puck out of mid-air and past Marcus Hogberg. Moments earlier, Pezzetta was trying to draw a fight from Archibald, and while cruising next to him the puck arrived on his stick, which he flicked up and batted it out of the air with just under two minutes left in the period. If he was attempting to wake up his team with a fight, surely a goal would do just as well. Assists on Pezzetta’s third goal of the season came from Daniel Audette (his 20th assist) and Jake Evans (his 18th).
Michael Pezzetta's goal in the first period against Belleville was the first at even-strength for the Laval Rocket in 216 minutes of play. pic.twitter.com/vWY7OEY3tQ— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) February 10, 2019
Spoiling the attempt to swing the momentum in their favour for the second period, a high-sticking call against Lukas Vejdemo early on put the Rocket right back on their heels. The Senators’ top line made quick work of the man advantage as Nick Paul scored on a rebound to give the Senators their two-goal lead back.
As the Rocket begin to be starved for offensive players with the long-term losses of Michael McCarron and Antoine Waked, and now Froese, rookie centre Hayden Verbeek is accepting the additional responsibilities given to him by Joël Bouchard, and continues to earn opportunities. It was his speed that created all sorts of chaos in the Senators’ zone that Alex Kile eventually captialized on, shooting from an impossible angle and sneaking the puck past Hogberg to bring the Rocket within one goal once again.
Alex Kile bounces the puck off of Marcus Hogberg from an impossible angle to bring the Rocket within a goal in the second period.— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) February 10, 2019
The goal was made possible by Hayden Verbeek causing all sorts of chaos in the Senators zone with his speed. pic.twitter.com/vV0X5jC2d6
That top line of the Sens would have their way yet again, as Batherson scored his second goal of the game soon after, ending the night for McNiven halfway through the second period, allowing four goals on 16 shots. Charlie Lindgren came into the game as Bouchard tries to shake up his team. The Rocket buckled down, allowing only two more shots for the rest of the period, but not having much offensive punch to chip away at the two-goal deficit.
The third was very much in the image of the previous two stanzas, as once again the Senators scored early. Batherson netted his third goal on the night by stealing the puck in the neutral zone and taking off on a breakaway, deking Lindgren out of his skates to give the Senators a three-goal lead.
Immediately afterward, the Rocket brought it back to two goals when Kile scored his second on the night on a sweet dish from Alexandre Alain from behind the goal line.
Alex Kile scored his second goal of the game on a gorgeous behind the net pass from Alexandre Alain, but it was not enough as the Rocket would fall to the Belleville Senators 6-3 for their sixth straight loss. Playoff hopes are dimming. pic.twitter.com/axpxvPupkl— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) February 10, 2019
That would be it for the Rocket offence on the night, but the game saw one final goal by the Senators by another promising prospect in their organization, Filip Chlapik, as Lindgren went way out of his net to try to play a puck and lost his battle, leaving a wide-open net for a short-handed goal. The game ended by a score of 6-3, and at no point was there a feeling that the Rocket were in this game. The Senators’ top line picked up eight points on the night (Batherson 3G 1A, Brown 2A, Paul 1G 1A).
The Rocket lose their sixth game in a row, and fall 11 points out of a playoff spot. Clearly hopes of post-season action are diminishing with every passing game. The best players for the Rocket on the night were rookies Pezzetta, who was a constant physical presence on every shift, and Verbeek, whose speed remained hard to contain.
The Rocket will play the next five games on the road, and frankly need an injection of new talent if they hope to compete. Karl Alzner should be joining them soon once he clears waivers, but certainly he will not be the difference-maker for them offensively. Weise is an interesting addition, but it feels like his time in Laval will be temporary, and that he will be going back up to Montreal really soon. The Rocket are about to experience a tough stretch of the season with five games in eight days, so the team better be prepared.