Less than 24 hours after the Laval Rocket secured an emphatic 4-1 victory over the Manitoba Moose, the team was back on the ice in front of a sold out Place Bell. While the offence was largely unchanged, the defence for Laval was markedly different from the Friday night formation. Karl Alzner was on emergency recall to Montreal, Evan McEneny was injured after a dirty hit by Ryan White, and that left the defence in the hands of Cale Fleury, Josh Brook, and Gustav Olofsson.
The trio was reinforced by Maxim Lamarche, ECHL call-up in Ryan Culkin, and PTO Nathanael Halbert. Behind them all was rookie Cayden Primeau in net, earning a second straight start after a shining performance on Friday night. The Marlies countered with Michael Hutchinson, who owned a flawless record against the Rocket in his six career starts.
Both sides went through a feeling-out process, with the shots few and far between in the opening minutes. The Rocket eventually were the first to kick their attack into second gear, with the speed of Lukas Vejdemo and others stifling the Marlies’ defenders at the point and creating rushes for Laval in quick order. The Rocket also did well to muddle any potential passing lanes for the Marlies, making it a true slog for the Toronto side to consistently link up for any kind of attack.
After Primeau made a lunging save with his pad to deny Toronto the Rocket attack resumed, with Jake Lucchini just missing his first in a Rocket sweater, and Jake Evans’s backhand chance being stopped by a steadfast Hutchinson. The pressure from Laval eventually led to the team’s first power play, with Tyler Gaudet being sent off for cross-checking Charles Hudon.
The power play had dangerous looks, but Hutchinson’s quick pads kept Laval from opening the scoring in the first period. Even after the penalty expired the Rocket were all over the Marlies in the offensive zone, but it was Alexandre Alain’s turn to be denied by the Toronto netminder. The Rocket didn’t make the end of the first easy, as Antoine Waked receieved a penalty for checking to the head, giving Toronto a power play of their own with under three minutes to play in the first.
The Rocket penalty-killers put on a clinic, blocking multiple shots to halt the Marlies’ potent power-play attack, and the two sides headed into the first intermission scoreless after a back-and-forth opening period.
After a strong opening 20 minutes, the Rocket were rewarded just minutes into the second period, with Alain breaking the scoreless tie with his 10th goal of the year. Vejdemo cycled a puck to the point where Fleury laid it off for Alain. The forward uncorked a wicked one-timer that found the back of the net as Yannick Veilleux screened Hutchinson in front.
Some Rocket gifs, first up Alexandre Alain makes it 1-0 with his 10th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/n81WcQjfPR— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 23, 2020
The lead was gone in under one minute. A mishandled puck made its way to Matt Read, and the veteran forward snapped his 12th goal of the year over Primeau’s shoulder to tie the game at one goal apiece.
The Rocket did not help their own cause following Read’s goal, with Brook taking a seat for interference, giving Toronto their second man advantage of the afternoon. The Rocket penalty-killers were again sharp, closing off any open looks that the Marlies might have had, and if anything broke down, there was Primeau to slam the door shut, including a monster glove save late in the kill.
Cayden Primeau robs Scott Pooley with his glove in the second period. pic.twitter.com/MC7Tvl7VuI— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 23, 2020
Primeau and Hutchinson continued to stand on their heads as the period wore on, with the Marlies’ goalie batting away chances from the Rocket top line, and also denying Veilleux a goal with a desperate kick save on his goal line after Veilleux was sprung on a breakaway.
It seemed the teams were destined to decide this game in the third period, where one little slip-up could make all the difference. Kenny Agostino potentially became that slip, taking a holding penalty at the end of the period, giving Laval a full two-minute advantage to start the third.
The top power-play unit peppered Hutchinson, with Hudon unleashing a massive one-timer from his office in the faceoff circle, but the netminder refused to yield a second goal. They didn’t have to wait long for another chance on the power play though, as Pontus Aberg was sent to the box for slashing shortly after the first penalty expired. The top unit was again robbed by some sprawling saves by Hutchinson, but an unlikely face found a goal after so many attempts.
Kevin Lynch and Laurent Dauphin connected on a two-on-one, but Dauphin’s shot was blockered away. Jumping on the rebound was Veilleux who rifled it far-side on Hutchinson for his seventh goal of the year. It was a massive goal, even bigger on Veilleux’s 27th birthday as it put Laval in the lead.
Your game winning goal from Laval comes courtesy of Yannick Veilleux on the power play. pic.twitter.com/tWa9GKyZd0— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 23, 2020
Laval followed that goal with an absolute onslaught, with Hutchinson using every inch of his frame to deny multiple Rocket players a goal, including Ryan Poehling who couldn’t tuck his shot by the skate of the goalie.
Things got a little dicey late with Veilleux taking a hooking penalty, and with just under five minutes to play the Rocket had one last hurdle to cross. The penalty-killers came out aggressive with Lynch creating a short-handed breakaway out of nothing, but again being denied by a big save. Brook came up with one last huge shot block, and Primeau stood tall as the penalty expired, and Laval collected a second win in two days.
Final Score: Laval 2, Toronto 1
The Rocket now must keep this newfound momentum going as they start a road trip against three North Division rivals. First up are the Belleville Senators on Wednesday night, a team that has continued to haunt the Rocket this season. The team could very well have a new look as well, given that the NHL Trade Deadline looms on Monday, and the Montreal Canadiens are sure to be busy.