After suffering a tough defeat last Friday in Rochester, the Laval Rocket rebounded in a big way by stomping the Utica Comets 5-2 on the road, a huge win on a difficult road to a playoff berth. After a few days off, the team was on the road once more, rolling into Cleveland for a two-game stint against the Monsters, a pair of games that should be wins against the last-place team in their division.
It wasn’t going to be easy as the Rocket were without Jake Evans and Charles Hudon still, while also now missing Ryan Poehling and Lukas Vejdemo due to an injury and a recall, respectively. Also not in the lineup was the newly arrived Jesse Ylönen, who is not set to play until next week at the earliest. However, the returns of Joseph Blandisi, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and William Pelletier helped to even out some of the losses. Cayden Primeau got the start, looking to bounce back after a difficult loss in Rochester the previous week.
Even with a last-minute scratch of Cale Fleury, the Rocket jumped on the attack early, swarming Veini Vehvilainen on multiple occasions. These attacks failed to yield an early goal as the Finnish netminder stood tall, and the Rocket tried one too many passes or held their shot just a second too long. The offensive pressure from the Rocket did create the first power play of the game, but with almost entirely new units the synergy was not there and Laval remained unable to break the scoreless tie midway through the first period.
Cleveland grew into the game more following their successful penalty kill, pestering Primeau with a number of shots as the period approached its close. They were also granted a huge opportunity as Blandisi was called for tripping with just over a minute remaining. While the Monsters, namely Trey Fix-Wolansky, had some open looks, Primeau shut them down to send the game into the first intermission with no goals for either side.
The Rocket dispatched the remainder of Blandisi’s penalty to start the second, and almost immediately afterward Kotkaniemi sent Yannick Veilleux in on a breakaway chance. The Rocket forward put on a nifty move with the puck, but Vehvilainen kicked out his pad to make an incredible save.
The Rocket still struck shortly after, as Gustav Olofsson’s shot missed wide off the back boards, but the puck fell right to Michael Pezzetta, who chipped the puck in as he toppled over at the side of the net.
Michael Pezzetta puts Laval up 1-0! pic.twitter.com/Zt9Pg2IQze— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 6, 2020
Not even a minute later, Alexandre Alain took a feed up the ice from Olofsson, getting in the Monsters’ zone with only one defender back. With that much space, Alain let a wrist shot go as he fell over and it fooled the Cleveland goalie, putting Laval up by two.
Not even a minute later, Alexandre Alain makes it 2-0 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/Hw7oBtPlFX— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 6, 2020
The Rocket onslaught didn’t stop there. Laval piled on a third goal before the halfway point of the period, with Veilleux making up for his earlier missed opportunity. Kotkaniemi was again the architect for the goal. Working off the wall, and without even stopping, he threw a feed across the Cleveland net to Veilleux at the opposite side, who tapped the pass home.
What a feed by Jesperi Kotkaniemi to Yannick Veilleux for Veilleux's 10th goal of the year.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 6, 2020
Laval lead 3-0. pic.twitter.com/YtCDlj3oys
Kotkaniemi was then guilty of interference, but a strong penalty kill led by Alain took care of his minor. They didn’t have much chance to rest as Nikita Jevpalovs was called for a trip as Kotkaniemi’s minor expired. Thankfully for the Rocket, Adam Clendening cancelled the advantage with a trip of his own, pushing the game to four-on-four.
It seemed that Laval was going to coast into the second intermission with a hefty lead, but the Monsters kept them honest. Branden Troock cut through the middle of the Rocket zone, and with just one defender in front he was able to find the space to fire a shot past Primeau, making it a two-goal game as the teams headed into the third period.
The Rocket were again put to the test early in the final period as Laurent Dauphin went off for a delay of game penalty. Even with one of their leading killers in the box, Laval stood tall once again, including Primeau who fought off the Monsters’ more-than-capable man advantage.
Troock was called for interference with just under 10 minutes left to play, handing Laval a massive chance to put the game very much out of reach with their third power play of the night. The power play repaid the work the penalty kill had done earlier in the period as Veilleux notched his second goal of the night off a slick feed from Nikita Jevpalovs.
Power play goal for Yannick Veilleux!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 6, 2020
4-1 Laval pic.twitter.com/L3gbGL8kn9
The Rocket’s lack of discipline in the third caught up with them with eight minutes left to play. While Dauphin served another minor penalty. Sam Vigneault converted a Marko Dano setup into a power-play goal, keeping the Monsters in the game with several minutes left to play.
With the Cleveland net empty, Laval managed to put the game away in the final minute. Veilleux passed up a long-range chance for his hat trick, instead dishing off to Kevin Lynch, who moved the puck to Kotkaniemi so the centreman could get his first AHL goal into the deserted net to seal the victory.
Final Score: Laval 5, Cleveland 2
These two teams will meet again tomorrow afternoon, and it is likely that Michael McNiven will get the start for Laval.