Trying times continued for the Laval Rocket, as they rolled in for the first of a five-game road trip with a game against one of the AHL’s best teams, the Belleville Senators. The Senators were coming off an impressive 7-4 thumping of the Toronto Marlies where they rattled off five straight goals in the comeback victory; an impressive feat for a team that already has a stranglehold on a playoff spot.
For the Rocket, this game was big on two fronts. A win helped keep their playoff spot secure as the Marlies and Syracuse Crunch nip at their heels. It also had the chance to help the team erase the memory of the previous weekend, where at home the Senators also stunned Laval with five unanswered goals to erase a 4-0 lead and win in overtime. Laval rebounded on Wednesday night, with Michael McNiven backstopping the team to an overtime win.
On Saturday, the Rocket were without two other architects of that win, as both Jake Evans and Xavier Ouellet were on recall to the NHL, leaving a big weight for Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Charles Hudon to shoulder. It was Cayden Primeau in net, and the rookie was looking to notch his first win in four tries against the Senators this season.
It didn’t take long for the duo of Kotkaniemi and Hudon to make their mark on the game. Just under four minutes in, Riley Barber broke up a clearing attempt and poked the puck along to Kotkaniemi. The young Finn spun off the boards and put a pass right to the goalmouth for Hudon, who easily tipped it by Filip Gustavsson for an early Laval lead.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi spins, and puts a pass on Charles Hudon's stick for his 24th goal of the year.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 9, 2020
Laval leads 1-0 in Belleville. pic.twitter.com/LLzgM34dbm
Following the goal, the Rocket also drew the game’s first power play as Frank Corrado was sent to the box for a slash. While the top unit with Kotkaniemi dominated the puck, they didn’t find a goal, and when the second unit took the ice an errant pass resulted in a Bellville breakaway and a hooking penalty against Laval. The Senators’ abbreviated power play failed to produce a goal, but they were not to be held off the scoreboard for long.
Some sloppy play in their own end by the Rocket gave Belleville all the chances they needed, and Joseph LaBate threw a pass in front that Jean-Christophe Beaudin fired by Primeau to tie the game up.
Laval didn’t help their case much from there as Kotkaniemi and Otto Leskinen took penalties just 11 seconds apart to put the Senators on a two man advantage. They didn’t take long to make the most of it as Vitaly Abramov set up a blistering shot from Erik Brannstrom to put Belleville on top by a goal.
While Laval battled back into the game, the Senators drew one more call as the period ended, giving them a nearly two minute advantage to start the second period.
The Rocket fought off the disadvantage to start the second, and because of a poor line change were heading to a power play of their own with too many Senators on the ice. The Laval man advantage again looked dangerous thanks to Kotkaniemi’s playmaking ability, but couldn’t solve Gustavsson.
The penalty isues for Laval popped up just past the midway point of the period, as Kotkaniemi went off for boarding. After a shaky showing in the first, the Rocket penalty killers clamped down, not giving the Senators much of anything as they dispatched Kotkaniemi’s minor.
The Rocket then drew three straight penalties, the last two resulting in a five-on-three in the final minutes of the period.
On the two-man advantage, the Rocket power play slowly worked their way around the Senators’ net, pushing their three penalty-killers together. Hudon let a shot fly and Gustavsson kicked the rebound right onto Kotkaniemi’s stick. Kotkaniemi paused for just a moment, then slid a pass across the crease, and Barber slammed it home to knot the game at two goals apiece.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi collects Charles Hudon's rebound, then waits to pick out Riley Barber who scores his 12th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/aggGQEZ8Vl— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 9, 2020
While the Rocket had battled back in the second, the third period belonged firmly to the Senators as they kicked their offence back into gear and peppered Primeau from all angles. The rookie netminder stood tall to keep the game squared, but a feisty Belleville team did not make it easy.
The period wound down to its final minutes, and eventually the Rocket had secured at least one point by getting the game to overtime. They nearly had a second point and a win as well, as Hudon sprang his own breakaway chance but was denied by a hasty backcheck. Then it was Kotkaniemi’s turn. He sped away from the defence, broke in on Gustavsson, and attempted to slide a backhand shot under his pad only to be stoned cold. His follow-up feed to Barber was gloved down by a sprawling Gustavsson again, robbing Laval twice in the overtime period.
The ensuing faceoff saw Jordan Murray spring the quick Alex Formenton on a break, and while Primeau squared him up well, the shot trickled through the five-hole, giving Belleville the extra point and overtime victory.
Final Score: Belleville 3, Laval 2 (OT)
Next up for the Rocket on their road trip is an afternoon showdown in Toronto with the Marlies today, another crucial game as the two rivals battle for the last playoff spot in the North Division.