The young core of the Laval Rocket was tested against the top team in the AHL’s North Division and they came away with a statement win, 4-1 against the Belleville Senators on Wednesday night at CAA Arena.
You couldn’t have blamed the Rocket for folding. After a good first period that saw them kill two penalties and play with the Senators despite a depleted lineup that saw them with seven defencemen (only three of which are on NHL contracts), they gave up a very late goal.
Ryan Culkin played the puck to Maxim Lamarche from the corner. Lamarche fanned on the puck in the slot, and it went directly to Joseph LaBate, who immediately shot it past Cayden Primeau with only three seconds remaining.
A late goal is always tough to bounce back from, especially for the Rocket against the Senators. Belleville was 6-1 against Laval entering Wednesday’s game, and have come back from multiple three-goal deficits in the third period against Laval this season.
To the credit of the Rocket and Joël Bouchard, they came out in the second period even better than they had played in the first. Bouchard played the line of Lukas Vejdemo, Yannick Veilleux, and Alexandre Alain who set the tone.
Laval forced the Senators into taking four straight penalties, including two brief five-on-threes. The first one was killed, but the second saw them get right back into the game.
Josh Brook, who has been getting much more responsibility due to the depleted defence in Montreal and Laval, set up Nikita Jevpalovs with a one-timer that he beat Joey D’Accord with, tying the game at 1-1 with four seconds remaining in the five-on-three.
It was Jevpalovs’ sixth goal of the season in his first game after missing two weeks with an injury. It was his first goal since January 18 (nine games played).
The Rocket kept pushing after that and it was a great play by Jesperi Kotkaniemi to give them their first lead of the game. Less than five minutes after Jevpalovs tied it, Kotkaniemi entered the zone and despite being hauled down, passed it back to Charles Hudon who made no mistake for his 27th of the season.
It was Kotkaniemi’s 11th assist of the season in his 11th game in the AHL.
The Rocket took the 2-1 lead into the third period and outshot the Senators 15-9 in the middle frame.
In the third period, the Rocket were in a dubious position — holding a lead against Belleville. They didn’t sit back. They outshot the Senators 12-9 in the final 20 minutes and the team and Primeau held the fort perfectly against the very talented team in front of them.
Jevpalovs added his second goal of the game into the empty net with 42 seconds remaining, and Laurent Dauphin scored his 11th just nine seconds later, also into an empty net.
- The Rocket went with seven defenders and 11 forwards as they decided to play new tryout Justin Woods, fresh off the ECHL, instead of newcomer Aaron Luchuk. Woods took a penalty in the first period and played sparingly. Bouchard was likely safeguarding a defender having to leave the game, choosing to trust his centre depth of Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling and Lukas Vejdemo to take extra shifts instead of getting caught with five defenders.
- Cale Fleury played his best game with the Rocket. Him and Ryan Culkin were a trusted second duo for the Rocket alongside Gustav Olofsson and Josh Brook. Fleury was credited with seven shots on the night, and was great on both ends of the ice.
- Kevin Lynch, who was promoted to Jake Evans’ spot next to Kotkaniemi and Hudon had three assists, including assists on both empty net goals. He’s become a trusted player who is versatile and can win key faceoffs, kill penalties and chip in with talented players.
- Primeau was making his third straight start, and won his third straight game making 27 saves. He allowed one goal in each of the three starts and appears to be the guy getting the majority of the playing time going forward. The Rocket have back-to-back games Friday and Saturday and it will be interesting to see whether Primeau plays one or both games.
- Antoine Waked served his one-game suspension for an illegal hit in the team’s last game against the Toronto Marlies on Saturday.
Charles Hudon - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Kevin Lynch*
Laurent Dauphin - Ryan Poehling - Jake Lucchini
Yannick Veilleux* - Lukas Vejdemo - Alexandre Alain
Michael Pezzetta - Nikita Jevpalovs*
Ryan Culkin* - Cale Fleury
Gustav Olofsson - Josh Brook
Nathanael Halbert+ - Maxim Lamarche*
* = AHL Contract
+ = Try Out