Following the Rocket’s overtime loss to the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday night, the two rival teams clashed again at Place Bell. Charlie Lindgren took the loss on Wednesday, so Michael McNiven took over the net. Unfortunately for the Rocket, they would be without their All-Star forward Alex Belzile, who was sick prior to the game, and missed his first game of the season. That meant Joël Bouchard had a lineup with eight rookie forwards, plus Cale Fleury and David Sklenicka on defence. The Marlies countered with Michael Hutchinson in net for Friday’s game after the veteran netminder’s win on Wednesday night.
The Rocket had the early chance to take the lead on the power play thanks to a Pierre Engvall holding penalty just under two minutes into the first period. Almost immediately, the Rocket surrendered a prime scoring chance to Colin Greening, but McNiven’s glove was on point to deny the veteran forward. Joe Cox and Alex Kile each responded with solid looks, but their shots were blocked in front, or pushed aside by Hutchinson to kill off the Laval man advantage.
Despite not scoring on the power play, Laval took the momentum following the penalty, piling up some great looks on Hutchinson. A number of long-range shots found their way on net, and they were kicked out of trouble by the Toronto netminder.
Despite the edge in play going to the home team, Toronto still managed to strike first. A puck shot by Kristians Rubins fluttered in from the point, hitting a Rocket defender, and Dmytro Timashov swatted the rebound home for a 1-0 lead.
A cross-checking penalty gave Laval another chance on the man advantage with under five minutes left to play in the opening period. Again, despite some solid looks Hutchinson remained impenetrable between the pipes and the Rocket entered the first intermission trailing by a goal.
The second period was again all Rocket on the shot counter, as they fired another 14 shots on goal. The difference is they handed the Marlies too many power play chances, and it burned them.
Sklenicka was called for tripping, and unlike a stagnant Rocket man advantage, the Marlies’ took control of the game. After a strong save by McNiven, the puck made its way to Michael Carcone’s stick, and he walked into the faceoff dot, wiring a shot that was deflected by McNiven for a two-goal lead.
Two more Rocket penalties tripped up any attempt at prolonged offence for Laval, and when they did get another power play later in the period, it again went for naught. The Rocket headed into the intermission playing well, but lacking some serious finish.
Trailing by a pair entering the final period, the Rocket needed a strong effort to make a game of it, and much like the previous two periods they had no issue with piling up the chances in the Marlies’ end. They just couldn’t find the rebound, or small gaps in Hutchinson to find a goal. The best chance in the opening minutes fell to Morgan Adams-Moisan who snuck in behind the Marlies’ defence, but couldn’t lift his backhand chance over Toronto’s goalie.
With the Laval shots piling up before the halfway mark of the period, the Rocket headed back to the power play after Josh Jooris got a stick up on Alexandre Grenier. Again, even with some decent time in the Marlies’ end, the Rocket man advantage failed to find a breakthrough as the two sides returned to even strength.
After a Lukas Vejdemo shot meandered its way through the crease, the Rocket would again head to the power play, this time courtesy of a Gabriel Gagne tripping penalty on Fleury. The busiest player on the Rocket power play ended up being McNiven, who had to turn away a pair of dangerous Toronto chances while short-handed, and did so with relative ease to keep it at a two goal deficit.
Michael McNiven comes up with a big save on the shorthanded breakaway. pic.twitter.com/06WDGfcfLT— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 9, 2019
Jake Evans was forced into a penalty of his own in the defensive zone, granting Toronto a chance to put a big cushion between the two sides late in the game, and sweep the series this week. Some timely glove work from McNiven and solid positioning by the Rocket penalty-killers dispatched the Evans minor, and from there the Rocket went right back down the ice and nearly poked one by Hutchinson.
A Pierre Engvall empty-net goal sealed the game with around 80 seconds left to play, and send the Rocket to a shutout loss, despite Laval’s overwhelming shot advantage.
Now nine points back of the Utica Comets for fourth place in the North Division, the Rocket can make up some of that ground when the two teams meet tomorrow at Place Bell.
1. Michael Hutchinson (Win, Shutout, 42 Saves)
2. Micheal Carcone (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
3. Hayden Verbeek (5 Shots)