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Laval @ Utica recap & highlights: Depleted Rocket searching for answers after loss to Comets

A hectic road trip started with a loss against the Comets on Wednesday.

Club de Hockey Canadien

In the midst of a brutal winter storm cutting through New York, the Laval Rocket kicked off their five-game road trip, with their first stop being in Utica for a showdown with the Comets on Wednesday night.

The lineup looked a little bit different from the one over the weekend as captain Byron Froese, and veteran defender David Schlemko were sent to Philadelphia. Both pieces in return in that trade, Dale Weise (recalleded), and Christian Folin ended up in Montreal this week. Kenny Agostino was claimed on waivers, and Michael Chaput did not make it in time for the start of this game.

Charlie Lindgren took the net facing Michael Leighton for the Comets, who were thin in their goaltending ranks thanks to injuries at the NHL level.

Things started poorly for the beleaguered Rocket side, with Jonah Gadjovich scoring his second goal of the year just six minutes in, putting Laval in an early hole. A steady march to the penalty box through the second half of the first period didn’t allow the Rocket to improve things.

Michael Pezzetta first sat for boarding a Comets player, and with the penalty nearly killed off Lukas Jasek doubled the Utica advantage. Less than a minute later, Karl Alzner sat for two minutes, and Brett Lernout would take a seat after the Alzner penalty was killed. A deft glove by Lindgren robbed Tanner Kero of a power-play marker, keeping it a two-goal deficit as the teams headed into the intermission.

The Rocket nearly cut the lead in half moments into the second period when Alex Belzile fed a pass through to Jake Evans, who tipped the puck just wide of Leighton’s net and wiped the cage off its moorings in the process. The pressure from Laval continued, with Lukas Vejdemo and Alexandre Grenier working hard along the boards behind the Comets’ net, but to no avail on the scoreboard.

After the Rocket defence broke up a Cameron Darcy breakaway attempt, a pass went the other way, springing Belzile on a clean breakaway, but Laval’s leading scorer fired his shot high over the net and off the glass. A massive scramble later in the period nearly landed the Rocket their first goal, but a crosscheck by Evan McEneny broke it up, sending Laval to a power play. Leighton himself stepped out of his net and knocked over Alex Kile, gifting the Rocket a short 5-on-3 power play.

The man advantage was wiped out shortly afterward, with Morgan Adams-Moisan hooking a Comets penalty-killer, sending the play to 4-on-4. As the strength changed to a short Utica power play, it was Lindgren whistled for a penalty as he slashed Kero in the leg. On the following power play, Kero cleaned up a rebound shot from Jonathan Dahlen.

Leighton was again called for a minor infraction, the second of the night for the netminder, sending Laval to a late second-period power play that they desperately needed a goal on. They got it too, thanks to some quick passing between Nikita Jevpalovs and Cale Fleury, with Fleury’s wrist shot being tipped past Leighton by Pezzetta.

It was a much better second period, but the Rocket still had a decent hill to climb as the second period came to an end.

The penalty parade by both sides continued to start the third period, this time Jasek was the offending party, giving Laval their fourth power play of the night just over a minute in. Some great passing generated some good looks on the man advantage, including Evans ringing a shot off the post from the slot. The Rocket couldn’t find a goal in the remaining time on the penalty, and followed it up by being called for too many men on the ice, forcing them to kill yet another penalty. They were able to survive, keeping Utica off the board with some aggressive work while short-handed, mostly from Vejdemo.

McEneny piled on a fourth goal shortly after the penalty was killed, and on the following possession Adams-Moisan took his second penalty of the night, sending the penalty-killing units over the boards again. A likely weary unit killed off the minor, and then ended up going on a power play of their own as a penalty-filled affair marched on.

Another fruitless power play turned into an odd-man rush for Utica that forced Lindgren to stand tall to make a big save. Laval tried to mount some form of a comeback, but their thin lineup couldn’t find its legs as they dropped another crucial game against a divisional rival.

There’s no rest for the wicked, as the Rocket will trudge on to Binghamton for a two-game series with the Devils on Friday and Saturday night.

Three Stars

1. Lukas Jasek (1 Goal)

2. Jonah Gadjovich (1 Goal)

3. Michael Leighton (Win, 20 Saves)