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“Fragile” Rocket having trouble holding leads, and it cost them against Manitoba

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Rocket are now winless in their last six games, blowing two leads against Manitoba on Wednesday.

It’s not just the Montreal Canadiens who’ve had trouble holding on to leads lately. The Laval Rocket are dealing with their own struggles.

“It’s the sign of a team that’s a little bit fragile right now,” Rocket defenceman Karl Alzner said after the game. “It’s kind of in the back of your head and you just don’t do things as hard or as confident as you would normally do it. That’s probably some of it right now.

“Obviously, tonight’s a bit of a heartbreaker. We played a pretty good game. And to let that happen is tough. But we’re in a grind right now.”

The Rocket led the game on two occasions, but still couldn’t come away victorious as they lost 5-4 to the Manitoba Moose in a shootout Wednesday night at Place Bell. Laval led 3-2 entering the third period after scoring three unanswered goals in the second. The team then led 4-3 later in the third, but they still coughed up a lead.

“The puck always seems to fall on the right spot for the other team.” Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard said.

The loss was Laval’s fifth to occur after leading through two periods this season, all of them coming after regulation.

“We just need to learn how to manage those one-goal leads in the last period,” Rocket forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi said. “I think the points will come with that.

“It’s not fun, but I think we just need to find a way. I know we were close every game. Something is missing and we just need to figure out what is that part.”

“I think it’s just a mental state,” Rocket forward Phil Varone offered. “I don’t know if it’s like we’re waiting for it to happen or what it is. I think once it happens once or twice, it’s a hard hurdle to escape and a harder hurdle to get over.”

Forward Jake Evans wants to change his team’s fortunes, especially after his experience with blown leads at the National Hockey League level. During his six-game stay with the Canadiens, the Habs blew leads against Arizona and Dallas, leading to losses that crippled their faint playoff hopes. The Notre Dame alum played his first game with the Rocket since being returned from Montreal earlier in the week, scoring a goal and adding an assist.

“It’s tough,” Evans admitted. “You obviously want to win. You want to help your team win. That aspect is hard. I think me coming back down here, I wasn’t on [the Rocket’s] road trip. I have a fresh mindset and I want to bring that to this team. I want to help lead this team.”

While some players feel a bad state of mind is playing a part in the Rocket’s inability to close games, the team’s coach says they don’t feel panicked when they have the advantage.

“The attitude on the bench was outstanding,” Bouchard said. “The guys were pushing in the same direction. Of course they’re fragile; it’s not exactly everything that they want. But that’s adversity. That’s hockey.”

“We seemed calm,” Alzner said. “For a team that’s going through what we’re going through, we seemed pretty calm and we’re still making plays right down to the end. I think that’s a really good sign that we’re not completely panicking. We still have enough poise in this team that we can battle through something like that. It’s just not fun.”

Laval is now three points behind the Toronto Marlies for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division.

TheAHL.com