Sitting just six points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Laval Rocket were suddenly one of the AHL’s most stubborn opponents. Five straight games had gone outside of regulation, and despite a cobbled-together forward group, Joël Bouchard had the Rocket playing their best hockey of the year.
Against Springfield last week, a strong game from Michael McNiven and Cale Fleury set the stage for Xavier Ouellet to win the game on a beautiful end-to-end rush. Wednesday night saw them face one of the few teams trailing them in the standings for once; the prototypical “trap game.”
The Rocket had the early chances going in their favour as the game started, Lukas Vejdemo’s shot troubled Cam Johnson, creating a pileup around the Devils’ net. In that mess, Alex Belzile kept hacking and jamming away until the puck crossed the line, however the officials determined there was no goal on the play. While Belzile did get the puck by Johnson, it was after the whistle had gone, rightfully wiping out the potential goal.
Shortly after, the Rocket were hit with a massive loss as Vejdemo was mashed along the boards by John Ramage. Vejdemo had chipped the puck along in the zone and had his shoulders slightly turned, and Ramage finished a hard check, leaving the rookie Swede dazed, and needing help to the Rocket bench. He would not return to the game, leaving a gaping hole in the lineup on Wednesday night, and potentially beyond.
Connor LaCouvee did well holding the fort as the Rocket offence struggled to kick into gear, but a late-first-period power play gave them a chance to do just that — until the Rocket nullified it just 19 seconds in with Belzile taking a roughing penalty. The four-on-four hockey also didn’t last the full two minutes, with Eric Grbya being called for slashing, meaning the Rocket would have some abbreviated power-play time to start the second period.
They did not do much of anything on said power play, then with three minutes gone, they surrendered the opening goal to Blake Pietila. Things did not improve much from there with Morgan Adams-Moisan collecting two minor penalties on the same play, and with those then killed off, Hayden Verbeek took a seat for goaltender interference. As Verbeek exited the box, he turned the situation into a breakaway for himself, and drew a penalty in the process.
The two-minute man advantage failed to move the needle much at all, and the play went back to even strength with Laval trailing still. The Devils took advantage of a clearly disorganized Rocket side, as Brandon Gignac teed up a pass for Ramage, who beat LaCouvee to double the Binghamton lead.
It only got worse from there, with a frustrated Belzile taking a questionable interference call, drawing the ire of Gryba on the play. The power play for the Devils paid dividends in under a minute with a scramble around LaCouvee resulting in Nick Lappin notching his 18th goal of the year, and putting the Rocket down by three goals heading into the second intermission.
Despite their lead, the Devils handed the Rocket a massive chance less than four minutes into the period with a pair of penalties on the same play, giving Laval a two-minute five-on-three power play.
It didn’t take much time for the Rocket to make the most of the two-man advantage, with Daniel Audette breaking the shutout. Belzile started the play, firing a pass to Jake Evans next to the net, and the rookie forward threw the puck across the crease for Audette, who directed it off Johnson and in.
Daniel Audette gets the Rocket on the board with a 5 on 3 power play goal. pic.twitter.com/ScZjWtn93l— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 28, 2019
With 1:28 left on the five-on-four power play, the Rocket nearly got another goal in short order, but put the chance wide. With the penalties expired, a poorly timed light slash led to another Devils power play. While Binghamton didn’t convert on the man advantage, they added two goals from Ramage and Gignac just before the halfway point of the period to quash any hopes of a Rocket comeback.
Alexandre Grenier’s lack of discipline led to another Rocket penalty kill not even a minute after the latest Devils goal, but Binghamton negated their own advantage and gave Laval a power play of their own. The futility on the man advantage continued and the Rocket failed to find a second goal, then promptly took another penalty shortly after, with Michael Pezzetta sitting for a high stick.
A busy Laval penalty kill kept the lopsided score from getting any worse, but at the final horn it was still a 5-1 loss for the Rocket, snapping a 10-game losing skid for the Devils. The loss to the second-worst team in the league was a devastating one for Laval, as they fail to keep pace in the North Division race, falling a further two points back of the Belleville Senators.
The road doesn’t get any easier as the Rocket head to Western New York for a Friday night game with the Rochester Americans.
1. John Ramage (2 Goals)
2. John Quenneville (2 Assists)
3. Brandon Gignac (1 Goal, 1 Assist)