As the NHL roster faced uncertainty heading into the trade deadline, the Laval Rocket faced a new future of their own. Coming off the heels of a shootout loss to this same Moose team, the Rocket shipped out Phil Varone and Riley Barber in exchange for Joseph Blandisi and Jake Lucchini from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. The trade was not entirely surprising given that the duo was scratched in a game last week, and were not living up to the lofty expectations from when they were signed this off-season.
Both new forwards drew into the lineup on the fourth line alongside Matthew Peca, while Gustav Olofsson slid back into the lineup after missing the previous game with the flu. Between the pipes was Cayden Primeau, with Michael McNiven serving as his backup after Keith Kinkaid took the loss on Wednesday night.
The opening half of the game was not filled with much offence from either side, as the two defences kept any attacks pushed to the boards. The only dangerous chances came from the Rocket blocking passes from the Moose blue line and creating odd-man rushes, both of which resulted in nothing on the scoreboard.
In spite of the slow start the Rocket got on the board first, thanks to the strong play from their top line once again. Jake Evans kept a puck alive in the offensive zone, and as Jesperi Kotkaniemi collected it he flung a shot in on Eric Comrie. It bounced through a defender’s legs, right onto the stick of Charles Hudon, who slotted it home for his 26th goal of the season.
Another day, another Charles Hudon goal set up by Jesperi Kotkaniemi. pic.twitter.com/oZvKWUqR2m— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 22, 2020
The Rocket then put their lead to the test as Maxim Lamarche was called for a hook, giving the Moose the first man advantage of the game. They were dangerous on it as well, peppering Primeau with plenty of chances, but timely saves and clears kept the Rocket in the lead as the period wound down.
A long spell of possession to end the period by Laval was cut short when Evans and Nelson Nogier took off-setting minor penalties, meaning the second frame started at four-on-four for the first 90 seconds.
The Rocket nearly doubled their lead early in the second period when Laurent Dauphin took a puck from Kevin Lynch on the goal line, but had his shot swallowed up by Comrie’s glove, keeping it a one-goal game. They had a huge chance to break the game open when Ryan White was given a major penalty and game misconduct for a blatant cheapshot from behind on Evan McEneny.
Ryan White(yes that one) gets five and a game for this dirty hit on Evan McEneny pic.twitter.com/dFtuRRqvxn— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 22, 2020
The power play struggled to find its rhythm, let alone any truly dangerous scoring chances, and the Moose killed off the five-minute advantage without yielding a second goal, keeping the deficit at one.
With five minutes left in the period, the Moose took advantage of the Rocket’s inability to capitalize on their golden opportunity. C.J. Suess won a draw to Kristian Reichel, who skated through the faceoff circle and snapped a shot by Primeau to tie the game at one goal apiece.
The Rocket did little to help themselves right after the Manitoba goal, with Evans being sent to the box for elbowing. It turned out to have a positive impact, as just 14 seconds in Lynch took off down ice, and set up Laurent Dauphin for a chance. Dauphin got his own rebound to score his 10th goal of the year.
Laurent Dauphin scores shorthanded to put Laval back in the lead! pic.twitter.com/fhzR0kZup3— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 22, 2020
After serving his minor Evans almost added to Laval’s lead, but he rang his shot off the crossbar, keeping the Rocket lead at one goal heading into the second intermission.
The Rocket jumped out quickly in the third period, with Kotkaniemi being denied on a great chance by Comrie, then Peca was also denied by a pad save in close.
Laval continued to give the Moose chances to climb back into the game, as Lukas Vejdemo took a penalty for cross-checking, then an extra two for roughing as he goaded Jimmy Oligny into a scrum while attempting to even up the penalties. The penalty-killers once again held their ground, keeping a strong Manitoba power play off the board and getting the play back to even strength with half a period left to play.
With time ticking away it was the top line of the Rocket that went to put the game on ice. Evans hounded Logan Stanley, eventually swiping the puck from him and creating a breakaway out of nothing. Evans pump-faked on his shot, then with Comrie caught out of position he calmly slid home his 14th goal of the year to seal a much needed victory for Laval.
Jake Evans picks Logan Stanley's pocket, and makes it 3-1 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/hhc5SivQz2— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 22, 2020
Kevin Lynch added an empty net goal to further Laval’s lead, and the Rocket head into tomorrow’s showdown against the Toronto Marlies with some much needed momentum.
Final Score: Laval 4, Manitoba 1
There will be some lineup shuffling for today’s game. Both Blandisi and McEneny left the game with injuries, and both seemed rather serious.