Despite losing their last two games heading into the AHL’s All-Star Weekend, the Laval Rocket remained very much in the middle of the race for a playoff berth. Standing in their way were the division leading Belleville Senators, who sat atop the North Division with 58 points, nine ahead of Laval.
The Rocket were bolstered by the demotion of Cale Fleury from the NHL club, and had had some time for their injured players to rest a bit. They were without Xavier Ouellet, who was still nursing a lower-body injury, and Fleury took his spot next to Otto Leskinen. Also missing was Lukas Vejdemo, whose absence brought Yannick Veilleux into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the end of Januay. Between the pipes it was Cayden Primeau, who was coming off a 4-0-1 January, looking to add to his strong start to 2020.
A tentative start gave way to the first power play of the night, with Morgan Klimchuk being called for holding Veilleux, allowing Laval a chance to break a first period deadlock. While Fleury wound up and put some chances toward Joey Daccord, no goals came of the man advantage.
Unfortunately for the Rocket, the Senators made good on their advantage after Kevin Lynch headed to the box, with Jordan Murray working off the half-boards and firing a shot far-side to put Belleville up 1-0.
On the following series, the Rocket nearly got the goal back, with Charles Hudon speeding away on the breakaway, then waiting, but failing, to get his backhand shot by Daccord, who was immediately wiped out by his teammate on the backcheck.
It seemed like the period was going to pass without further incident, but with the horn going for the intermission, Joseph LaBate threw a high hit at Leskinen, and it drew an immediate crowd. Namely an angry Lynch, who took a roughing minor along with LaBate in the ensuing ruckus.
With the extra ice, the potent Senators attack took advantage. One of the Rocket defenders attacked aggressively along the boards, and that left Fleury alone to defend two players. Alex Formenton had no issue setting up Josh Norris for his 23rd goal of the year, and doubling the Senators’ lead.
An Andreas Englund kneeing penalty afforded the Rocket another power-play chance to climb back into the game. With Fleury manning the blue line, his shot deflected in on Daccord, who then stopped Jake Evans on three consecutive chances to keep the Bellville lead at two goals. The man advantage again couldn’t convert, and even a breakaway chance by Michael Pezzetta couldn’t find its way by a stout Senators goalie.
By the midpoint of the second, they owned a 14-2 shot advantage in the frame. Even a penalty on Karl Alzner did little to slow down the Rocket, with their penalty-killers generating several rushes while short-handed but still struggling to find the back of the net.
Hudon attempted a long clearing pass, only for it to be intercepted, then rifled over Primeau’s shoulder to make it 3-0 Belleville.
In the dying seconds of the period, Nikita Jevpalovs dangled around the Senators’ defence then shoveled a chance to the net, and Lynch managed to lift it over Daccord to break the shutout bid with two seconds on the clock.
Nikita Jevpalovs undresses Andreas Englund as he sets up Kevin Lynch's sixth goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/bnkEM7iv8t— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 1, 2020
Just 32 seconds into the third, the Rocket went back to the power play, but it continued to do next to nothing. The Rocket then took a too many men penalty, which allowed the Senators to further increase their lead.
Erik Brannstrom put Laval right back on the advantage as he was called for a cross-check, and this time the Rocket made it work. Leskinen kept the puck in the zone, sliding it across to Phil Varone in the faceoff circle. Varone fired it across to Riley Barber, who wired it top-shelf to make it a two-goal game once again.
Riley Barber with the power play goal, and some colorful words afterwards.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 1, 2020
Rocket trail 4-2 pic.twitter.com/hjYcMRoheL
A flurry of penalties on both sides eventually ended with the Rocket on the man advantage. Varone made up for his earlier penalty, as he corralled a bouncing puck from a Leskinen shot, and put home his third goal of the year to get Laval within a goal late in the game.
Phil Varone makes it 4-3 with a power play goal.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 1, 2020
This game is all sorts of sloppy fun. pic.twitter.com/du12jrFFmK
The penalty box march continued even with the Rocket net empty, Logan Brown refused to play the puck and was sent off for delay of game, putting Laval on a last-gasp six-on-four. They had one great chance, but Daccord made one last massive save and kept the Sens’ lead intact at the final horn, sending Laval to a third straight defeat.
Final Score: Belleville 4, Laval 3
The two sides will meet again on Saturday night in a rematch, with Keith Kinkaid expected to start for Laval.