About midway through Tuesday’s practice at Place Bell, Laval Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle had seen enough. After some poor puck management during a drill, Houle started yelling and slammed his stick to the ice.
“It’s important for us to be disciplined, to have control of our sticks, control of the puck. Turnovers and indiscipline cannot stand,” Houle said after practice.
“We’re trying to stay positive with our players, but as a coach it’s part of my duties to make this team better and if I have to bring my voice a little louder and make them work harder in practice that’s what we’re going to have to do,” he said. “That’s my job as a coach. I take full responsibility and I want to turn this team around.”
It’s all part of the pressure that comes not only with a three-game losing streak that sees them on the outside-looking-in of the playoff picture, but also a change at the top of the Montreal Canadiens organization. Houle, like his NHL counterpart Dominique Ducharme, will need to show something in order to keep his new bosses happy, and players have a chance to make a solid first impression as well.
“It’s up to Jeff Gorton and the new general manager to evaluate us,” Houle said. “Us the coaches, the players, everyone in the organization. It’s part of professional hockey, it’s how it is and we’ll build new relationships with new people.”
The Rocket know the importance of the three games this week, as they host the Texas Stars for two games on Wednesday and Friday before heading to Toronto to face the Marlies on Sunday. The task becomes harder as they will be without defenceman and captain Xavier Ouellet, who left Saturday’s game with an injury and is out indefinitely.
“Everyone will need to give a little bit more. It gives a chance for other players to prove themselves and have more ice time,” Houle said. “For them it’s a good opportunity and we hope some players will take the chance and play well.”
One of those players is Corey Schueneman, who not only can replace the leadership as he wears an ‘A’ on his jersey, but whose skill set can best replace the Rocket’s captain who plays in all situations.
“We’re going to have guys step up, myself included,” Schueneman said. “You can’t replace a guy like that but we can try our best and we have to come together as a team to clean up the defensive zone. I think we need to play together, we play smart, we play simple, and if we start to lock down the defensive zone, some of these closer games will go in our favour.”
The Rocket are currently three points behind the Senators for the final playoff spot, tied with the Syracuse Crunch for last place in the North Division. The coaching staff has preached better defensive play since the start of the season, but have allowed 18 goals (with several empty net goals) over the last three games. Even their big comeback win against Toronto over a week ago — turning a 5-1 deficit into a 6-5 shootout win — saw them allow five goals.
Their 64 goals allowed in 17 games is tied for worst in the league but they have played three fewer games than the team they are tied with. Their 3.76 goals against per game is 30th in the 31-team AHL.
“We gave up too many goals, and took too many penalties, too many turnovers, so that’s a bad mix to win games.” said forward Laurent Dauphin.
“We have to be better at not turning the puck over, I think we turn the puck over too much,” Houle said. “We already talked about the penalties, you can’t play when you have that many penalties. It’s impossible to win because too many guys are on the bench, nobody’s in the rhythm and we need timely saves from our goalies as well. We need to score at the right times. Against Belleville, we had so many chances to maybe get that goal and we didn’t bury it in front of the net, and it was like breakaways, backdoor tap ins... We need to concentrate and be stronger on our sticks in order to create opportunities for ourselves.”
“Some of the games we play it kind of seems like we’re not playing together as a five-man unit,” said Schueneman. “Maybe it’s three guys, four guys as a unit, but in this league, this many games, you need to have that consistency every night where it’s five guys and we need to start playing more together.”
- With Marc Bergevin, and Scott Mellanby, who handled many tasks with the team, no longer with the organization, it will fall to John Sedgwick to handle player moves for Laval for the time being. Houle speaks to him for that side of things, and says it’s business as usual for his staff.
- One of those players recalled is Charles-David Beaudoin. The defenceman had been on a tear with the ECHL’s Trois-Rivières Lions, and earned the call up. With the injury to Ouellet, he may get a chance to play sooner rather than later. The Rocket have seven healthy defencemen on the roster: Schueneman, Tobie Paquette-Bisson, Louie Belpedio, Tory Dello, Carl Neill, Terrance Amorosa, and Beaudoin.
- As for Paquette-Bisson, he got some power play reps at practice on Tuesday as the team looks to fill the void left by Ouellet’s injury.
- Michael McNiven did not practice on Tuesday, as the two goalies on the ice were Cayden Primeau and Kevin Poulin. The team confirmed that McNiven was out with a non-COVID related illness.