While the focus for many on Saturday night was the emergence of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Cale Fleury in Laval, there was still a team fighting for a playoff spot. And with six minutes left in the game, it appeared the Rocket were on their way to getting two big points against the Belleville Senators.
Logan Brown scored with 5:46 remaining to make it 4-2. One minute and 36 seconds later, Josh Norris scored from underneath Fleury to make it 4-3.
Then, with nine seconds remaining in the game, Rudolf Balcers banked a shot in to the net seconds after Keith Kinkaid made a game-saving stop.
In overtime, Jordan Murray scored to give Belleville the 5-4 win.
It was a fourth straight loss for the Rocket, who are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games despite having their strongest lineup of the season. The players seem to have reached their breaking point.
“It’s fucking embarrassing, honestly” said Phil Varone who had a goal and an assist in the loss. “It’s brutal. I don’t even know how to explain this. Guys are trying but it’s clearly not good enough all the way around. It’s either we grow up and do something or... I don’t know.”
“There’s no explanation. I think we’re all fed up. We give ourselves chances to win but we don’t get it,” said team captain Xavier Ouellet. “We need to stick together and find a way out [...] It’s tough to digest.”
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot game after game,” said Riley Barber who also had a goal and an assist. “We had chances to win the game and put it away and we don’t. We still have games left and it can change in a hurry but we have to figure out our end and how to close games. It feels like we can’t score enough goals lately.”
“The second that 4-2 goal went in, we’ve been in a spot where we get that uncomfortable feeling and that’s something we need to get rid of,” said defenceman Gustav Olofsson. “It’s pointless to work that hard and get that lead if we can’t hold it. It’s something we need to get pissed off about and make sure we never do again.”
In his post-game press conference, Joël Bouchard was not angry at his team, instead he saw this as an opportunity.
“There’s a reason they’re in the AHL,” said Bouchard. “If they were good enough they’d be in the NHL. Now it’s up to — not them — but me in charge and show them how.
“The American Hockey League, what happened today, that’s why they’re here,” he continued. “We’re going to find out by the end of the year who are the players that will be able to help the Montreal Canadiens win games. We also want to win, don’t worry. We also want to make the playoffs, and not only make the playoffs, we want more than that. We want to win all our games until the end. But the real goal of the AHL is for what? It’s to see what these guys have inside of them. How they are able to progress. What happened tonight is OK. It’s part of the game. What’s important is to find out how they are going to be able to help them win the Stanley Cup. It’s a laboratory we have here. It’s the best laboratory we have.”
The Rocket have been up and down for a while. They had a 5-5-1 December and followed that up with a 5-5-1 January, before opening February with this loss.
“At least now we’ve hit rock bottom. Before we were up and down and that’s tough as a coach. You tell them something and then you win a game, and then you lose another and have a good performance. I told them, there’s one thing: I’m not a fool but I’ll work with you. I send them out, and I send them out, and I send them out and I give them more and more rope...” Bouchard then gestured and made a sound like it was the end of that rope.
The Rocket coach said that he felt the team was better and won more games when they were dealing with players called up to the Canadiens and dealing with injuries because everyone adhered to the plan.
“Now there’s more experience, more opinions, and that’s what happens,” Bouchard said. “Now they seem fed up. Until they’re fed up, you can’t be fed up for them. Now they appear fed up and that’s perfect for me. We’ll start over like we have to and there will be lineup changes.
“My job is not to panic and scream about the point we lost. If we need to lose one, or lose two points to get 12? That’s perfect. That’s why we’re here. We have to find guys who will win. Who will progress, who will help the Canadiens, who will help the organization to win.”
The Rocket now have 29 games left in their season and continue their homestand with a huge game against the Utica Comets on Wednesday night which is where the reconstruction will begin.
“We underestimate adversity,” Bouchard said. “It’s something that is important. The guys need it. And now they’re living it [...] It’s not when things go well and you’re feeling good about yourself that you learn about what you have. It’s when things get very hard that you see who can get out of this and grow from it.”
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi played with Charles Hudon and Joe Cox in his debut and also played on the top power play unit. He didn’t kill penalties, but still played 16 minutes according to Bouchard. The plan is to get him to play all situations, including the PK going forward. He got an assist on Hudon’s power play goal.
- Keith Kinkaid made the start for the Rocket and made 32 saves. He had some strong moments, but like the rest of the team couldn’t rebound in the final minutes.