Off the back of a hard-fought shootout win over the Belleville Senators just before the New Year, the Laval Rocket were again back in action on Friday. Their opponents hailed from Central Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and they came into the game struggling to generate offence despite the standout work of Cal O’Reilly.
The Rocket once again trudged in, with another ECHL tryout in the lineup in the form of Garret Mitchell, needed after Dale Weise was recalled to Montreal, and also with the lack of offence from Hayden Verbeek. The newly acquired Andrew Sturtz was not yet ready to play, but had arrived in Laval prior to the game.
Cayden Primeau got the start, looking to shake off a bad run and re-establish his dominant early-season form. He had a big task ahead of him, as Morgan Frost rejoined the Phantoms after being sent down earlier in the week by the Philadelphia Flyers.
The recent quick starts for the Rocket continued once more, with some shifty play by Riley Barber around the net forcing Frost into a hooking penalty just 80 seconds in. The power play was not able to generate much of an attack, but the Rocket still struck shortly after the penalty expired.
Gustav Olofsson drove into the zone hard, fending off David Kase with one hand and shoveling the puck across the net to Jake Evans with the other. Evans buried his eighth goal of the year by J.-F. Berube to put Laval in the lead early on.
What a play by Gustav Olofsson to get this puck to Jake Evans for his 8th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/vfDOkzKGME— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 4, 2020
The Phantoms worked their way back into the game, spending long shifts in the Rocket zone but failing to create anything of danger in front of Primeau. Laval’s defence was able to keep them stuck along the boards, grinding the puck along and keeping shots off the net.
Lehigh Valley did draw a penalty of their own with just over five minutes left to play in the period as Josh Brook was the guilty party for a hold. The Rocket fended off the Phantoms’ man advantage, and then drew a hooking penalty of their own, giving them a second crack on the power play.
They cashed in this time, with Barber starting a cycle to Xavier Ouellet, who teed up Charles Hudon, who in turn lasered his one-timer right by Berube for a two-goal lead heading into the intermission.
Good God what a rocket by Charles Hudon, his 16th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/0iQWt9g20I— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 4, 2020
The second period started with the Rocket mirroring the Phantoms’ early penalty issues from the first period. This time Otto Leskinen skated to the box for holding just over two minutes in. The penalty-killers kept Lehigh Valley off the board once again, and returned to even strength looking to add another goal to give themselves a bit of breathing room.
They were given that chance with a third power play, as Frost was called for slashing. The top unit of Barber and Hudon nearly connected immediately as the former’s rebound slipped just over Hudon’s stick at the side of the net.
While they did not connect on the power play, the Rocket again managed to get on the board with a highlight-reel assist shortly after. Barber got the puck on the blue line, dangled around one Phantoms player, then put a perfect pass on Evan McEneny’s stick at the goal line, and the defender easily deflected it home for a third Laval goal.
Riley Barber dangles a Phantom and puts a perfect pass on the stick of Evan McEneny for his second goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/0t7gUscxaW— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 4, 2020
Another power play for Laval yielded a few chances but no goals, but the damage was done already, and the Rocket headed into the second intermission comfortably in control, up by three goals.
Just 11 seconds into the third period the Rocket piled on another goal, this time from their captain. A big rebound off Berube from a Yannick Veilleux shot came to Xavier Ouellet at the blue line, and he stepped into his shot to beat the netminder and put a stranglehold on the game for the Rocket.
11 seconds into the third period and Xavier Ouellet makes it 4-0 Laval. pic.twitter.com/x8K5sWIbQp— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 4, 2020
A pileup in front of Primeau’s net eventually led to Kevin Lynch being hit with a hooking penalty and gave Lehigh Valley a chance to break the shutout bid. The penalty-killers remained flawless, making life fairly easy for Primeau and keeping the Phantoms off the scoreboard as the halfway point of the period approached.
The Rocket were given a hand by Kurtis Gabriel in seeing out the end of the game. As the play transitioned, Gabriel got an earful from Hudon and decided to go after the Laval forward, earning himself a roughing penalty and a 10-minute misconduct that ended his night. While Laval did not add a fifth goal, they easily saw out the final minutes of the game, securing much-needed points before a match with the Syracuse Crunch tomorrow at Place Bell.
Michael Pezzetta laid a clean hit just before the final horn, drawing the ire of every Phantoms player on the ice, who all wanted a piece of the sophomore forward. No penalties were assessed and no punches were thrown, but it’s clear the young forward was under the skin of his opponents all night.
Final Score: Laval 4, Lehigh Valley 0