Mired in one of their worst slumps of the season, the Laval Rocket rolled into Binghamton to open a two-game series with the Devils, and looked to snap out of their poor run of form. Rejoining the team was Michael Chaput after he cleared waivers earlier in the week, giving the forward group a sorely missed veteran presence. Between the pipes, it was Charlie Lindgren squaring off with the Devils’ Cam Johnson on Friday night.
It was a closely contested goalie duel through the opening half of the first period, with both Johnson and Lindgren turning away every shot tossed their way. Lindgren and the Rocket also had to fend off a Binghamton power play after Lukas Vejdemo was sent to the box for tripping. A big kill sparked the offence however, as the Rocket scored two goals in quick succession following the penalty kill.
Alexandre Alain put Laval on the board with just over seven minutes remaining in the period thanks to some great work around the Devils’ net. Xavier Ouellet fired an off-balance shot from the wall, and Alain corralled the rebound and calmly lifted it over Johnson for his seventh goal of the year.
Smooth hands in close results in Alexandre Alain's seventh goal of the year for Laval. pic.twitter.com/HKNtJMZunM— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 16, 2019
Then it was Alexandre Grenier doubling the Rocket lead with just over fourteen minutes gone in the period, and breaking the AHL veteran out of a long slump. A miscommunication between Johnson and his defence resulted in a flubbed clearing attempt close to the net. Grenier jumped all over the puck, burying it for a two-goal lead.
How to not play the puck as demonstrated by Cam Johnson and the Binghamton Devils defense.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 16, 2019
Grenier with the goal for Laval. pic.twitter.com/rTR1a36BLY
The offence didn’t let up after the first period. In the second, it was the All-Star, Alex Belzile, pouncing all over Ryan Murphy’s lackadaisical play with the puck. As Murphy retreated, Belzile swiped the puck off his stick, and with a slick move around Johnson added the third Rocket goal of the night.
"Yoink"-Alex Belzile probably pic.twitter.com/mnsQ1eI2mZ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 16, 2019
The Rocket didn’t make things easy on themselves, taking back-to-back penalties after Belzile’s goal. While they killed off Alex Kile’s minor for tripping, Belzile’s penalty ended up breaking Lindgren’s shutout bid. John Quenneville took a feed from Yegor Yakovlev on the power play and had an eternity to pick his spot.
Blake Speers sent Laval to another power play, but the Rocket man advantage was wiped out shortly afterward with another Belzile tripping penalty. In a continuing parade of penalties, Quenneville interfered with Jake Evans, driving him face-first into the end boards, shifting the play to 4-on-3 for a short period.
The Rocket could not convert on their man advantage, and the repeated penalty kills shifted the momentum to the Devils late in the period. A badly timed penalty by David Sklenicka to end the period resulted in Colton White ringing one off the crossbar and in with just two seconds left on the clock, cutting the Rocket lead to just one goal.
The final period started with the Rocket on their back foot for a few minutes, but they regained some of their composure as they tried to hold off a resurgent Devils attack. After a late-second-period goal, Laval locked things down defensively through the opening minutes. The Devils pushed, but only managed one shot on net through almost half of the period.
This defensive posture remained as the minutes ticked away in the third. The Devils tried to push, but the Rocket gave them no space to shoot, or forced them to shoot from bad angles. Laval nearly put the nail in the coffin when Murphy lazily tried to clear the zone, and Vejdemo swiped the errant pass. Johnson denied the Swede on the breakaway to keep the Devils within striking distance.
Daniel Audette hit the empty net, all but securing the win for Laval late in the third period. Even a late Quenneville goal wouldn’t be enough to spark Binghamton with 20 seconds left on the clock, and the Rocket finally snapped their losing skid.
These teams will clash again tonight in Binghamton, with Michael McNiven expected to start for the Rocket.
1. Daniel Audette (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
2. Alex Belzile (1 Goal)
3. John Quenneville (2 Goals)