After two weeks and four games against the Belleville Senators, the Laval Rocket finally had the chance to face a new team early in the AHL season. They put together an impressive 3-1-0 run against a pesky Senators team to start their season, and their four-game series was a coming-out party for a number of young players.
While Jordan Weal and Lukas Vejdemo are pacing the team offensively, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylönen are more than holding their own as a pair of rookies making their North American professional debuts. The Moose were bolstered by the arrival of 2021 first-round pick Cole Perfetti, who had just one goal in his first four games, while Tyler Graovac lead Manitoba in scoring.
It was another big night of debuts for Laval as well, with Kaiden Guhle and Cam Hillis getting their first pro starts, while Vasili Demchenko was given his first start in North America.
The game started much slower than the ones against the Senators in the previous weeks, possibly due to the Moose providing an entirely new look. Laval did manage jump out to their usual lead in shots as they peppered Mikhail Berdin early on. Then Jesse Ylönen finally found the back of the net in the AHL; the bad news is that it was his own net. The young Finn went to rocket a puck around the boards and misfired, rifling the puck right by Demchenko and opening the scoring for Manitoba.
The Moose also gained the game’s first power play when Joseph Blandisi ran into Berdin behind the Moose net. Demchenko stood tall to keep the Manitoba lead at one goal. Laval kept the pressure on at even strength as the period continued on, but again went to the box when Yannick Veilleux was called for a cross-check in the offensive zone.
On this penalty kill, it was Laval generating all the chances, as they rang one shot off the crossbar and then were denied a tying goal by a diving Berdin blocker save along the goal line. The Rocket put an emphatic end on the period with Guhle landing a thunderous hit in the corner. While trailing by a goal at intermission, the team looked primed for a goal in the second period.
The Rocket nearly found it on two occasions, with Laurent Dauphin springing Lukas Vejdemo on a breakaway that Berdin fought off. Then, Vejdemo was robbed again by Berdin on a one-timer right in the slot. With just under seven minutes played the Rocket had piled up eight shots on net while allowing just one, but the stellar goaltending for the Moose kept them from finding the back of the net.
The Rocket’s best line finally got their breakthrough just over a minute later when Corey Schueneman snuck his shot past Mikhail Berdin. Arsen Khisamutdinov collected the puck and circled back toward the blue line, then fired the puck over to Schueneman whose low, hard shot found its way by Berdin to tie the game up at one goal apiece.
Corey Schueneman gets his second of the year off a feed from Arsen Khisamutdinov.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 23, 2021
The assist is Khisamutdinov's first point in the AHL! pic.twitter.com/ahhWaorIVi
Laval continued to pour on the pressure, but were continually rebuffed by the strong play of Berdin. The Rocket gained a power play of their own with five-and-a-half minutes left to play after Johnathan Kovacevic landed a high elbow on Dauphin that left the Rocket forward dazed on the ice. The Rocket pressed, but couldn’t solve the Russian netminder on the power play, but did soon find a second goal at even strength.
Ylönen continued his impressive rookie campaign with another assist on Otto Leskinen’s first goal of the season. The forward sped through all three zones, and as he hit the faceoff circles he held up, picked out the trailing Leskinen, and put a perfect pass on his stick that the Finnish defender had all day to rifle by Berdin to give Laval a one-goal lead headed into the third period.
Jesse Ylönen with his head up the whole way finds the trailing Otto Leskinen who fires one by Berdin.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 23, 2021
2-1 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/OeFfO1tS8c
Despite all the momentum in the Rocket’s corner heading into the third, a missed assignment left Jeff Malott wide-open in front of the Rocket net. The Moose winger fired it high over Demchenko’s glove to tie the game up just 15 seconds into the period.
Thirty seconds later, after a hit on Harvey-Pinard, Dylan Samberg accepted a challenge from Veilleux for a scrap. While it wasn’t a blockbuster by any means, a solid punch from Veilleux rocked Samberg and it forced the rookie defenceman to the locker room after their fight.
Then it was another Rocket power play after Kovacevic was called for elbowing a second time, this time delivering a nasty-looking shot to Hillis behind the Moose net. The Rocket power play couldn’t find their feet on the two-minute advantage, keeping the game level, but with Laval leading heavily on the shot counter early in the third period.
The two sides traded plenty of scoring chances as the game approached the end of regulation. Berdin continued to make lunging glove saves on Rocket shots in the dangerous areas around his net. At the other end of the ice, some heavy pressure from the Perfetti line hemmed the Rocket in, and Laval was lucky to keep their lead after a shot clanged off the crossbar and away from Demchenko’s net.
A late tripping call put the Moose on a power play with under a minute left to play, but the Rocket killed off the first 30 seconds, with another 90 left to start overtime. The Moose attack made the most of the extra space, as Perfetti teed up Ville Heinola for a goal to steal the extra point away from Laval.
Final Score (OT): Manitoba 3, Laval 2
These teams will meet again on Wednesday night. It’s expected that Joel Bouchard will shuffle his lines and slot in a new goaltender in his rotation.
- Mikhail Berdin (39 Saves, Win)
- Corey Schueneman (1G)
- Ville Heinola (2G)