The Laval Rocket got off to about as perfect a start as an AHL team could have hoped for last week, collecting back to back 5-1 victories over the Belleville Senators. Both Cayden Primeau and Michael McNiven got a win, and the prospects, as well as the veterans on the team combined for two dominant games. On Tuesday night they might the Senators again looking to claim a third straight victory over their divisional foe.
Joël Bouchard’s task going into the game was to make sure he kept his lineup fresh, but also put forth the best 20 skaters possible. For Tuesday’s game, he was bolstered by the arrival of Michael Frolik on a conditioning loan, in addition to Ryan Poehling returning from injury. Frolik was slotted onto Poehling’s left wing, while on the right was Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, who was bumped down a line in favour of Jesse Ylönen. Also making their North American pro debuts were Arsen Khisamutdinov and Jan Myšák, as well as Vasili Demchenko backing up Cayden Primeau.
The Rocket’s intense pressure served them well as the game opened up. They drew a penalty and nearly scored on the same play just a minute into the game. The power play only generated one really clean look, and that came when Poehling fed a pass across the zone, but Frolik fumbled the reception, only able to meekly push the puck forward instead of fully one-timing it.
While the Rocket bottled up any Belleville attacks, they slowly began to grow their shot advantage as the period wore on. If not for some outstanding goaltending from Filip Gustavsson, it very likely could have been a first-period blowout. However, the relentless Rocket attack was not to be denied in the first period, finally breaking the 0-0 game open with under five minutes to play.
Otto Leskinen fired a huge shot through a Yannick Veilleux screen that was kicked out right to the stick of Jordan Weal, and he had no problem burying his first goal of the season to open the scoring.
The Real Deal Jordan Weal makes it 1-0 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/0u5OcAd7ox— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 17, 2021
The Rocket pressure continued up until the horn went to end the first period. The two teams headed to the locker rooms with Laval up by a goal and leading 13-3 in shots on goal.
While Laval continued to control the play in the second period, they began to slack a bit with the puck on their sticks. A turnover led to a Ridly Greig scoring chance, and even when the Rocket cleared their lines they had a a two-minute high-sticking penalty to kill as Frolik made his way to the penalty box.
The best scoring chance of the penalty kill fell to the Rocket as Josh Brook picked out Harvey-Pinard coming off the bench and sprung the rookie on a breakaway. Harvey-Pinard was slowed down a bit by an uncalled hook, but almost slid a backhand chance past Gustavsson to double the lead. The Senators netminder was up to the task, gloving down the puck before there could be a follow up chance.
The penalty-killers were called back into action shortly after their first kill, needing to handle a too many men on the ice call. A few nervous moments in the early going tested Primeau and the penalty-killers, but they were again able to fight off the Senators’ man advantage. Not long after the penalty expired though, Belleville found a goal thanks to a nifty pass from Greig. The rookie forward put the puck between a pair of Rocket players for Logan Shaw, who roofed his chance over Primeau’s glove to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Despite having some good looks late in the period, the Rocket couldn’t find another goal before the horn went for intermission, leaving this contest to once again be decided in the third period.
In the final frame it was the Rocket getting their chances in the early minutes, including Poehling nearly scoring five-hole as he fell to the ice. Otto Leskinen followed that up by ringing a heavy shot off the goal post, but it bounced away harmlessly.
The Sens took advantage of a rare Rocket defensive lapse to set up shop in the offensive zone, cycling quickly and keeping Laval on their heels. With Michael Pezzetta sliding everywhere to try to block open lanes, Vitaly Abramov stepped in and wired his shot off the crossbar and in to put Belleville in the lead.
A Brook turnover sent the Senators in on an odd-man rush soon afterward, and while Corey Schueneman broke up the intial pass, Primeau had over-committed to the other Senator in the zone and Clark Bishop picked up the loose puck and easily slotted it in the net.
Laval had barely taken the puck out of the back of their net when another odd-man rush resulted in Alex Formenton converting a Shaw pass into a fourth Belleville goal.
It looked like the Rocket had pulled themselves back into the game when Poehling left a pass off for Frolik, but his shot hit iron and bounced away once again. While the offence was getting their legs back, an ill-timed boarding penalty by Xavier Ouellet put the Rocket short-handed to kill the momentum. There was no miracle comeback to be had, and the Rocket were handed their first loss of the young season.
Final Score: Belleville 4, Laval 1
After a few days to dwell on the lost opportunity, the Rocket will meet the Sens once more on Friday night at Place Bell at 7:00 PM EST.