Jesse Ylönen’s blast from the circle on the power play proved to be the difference as the Laval Rocket defeated the Stockton Heat 4-3 on Saturday afternoon in Calgary.
Ylönen took an Otto Leskinen feed and shot a one-timer that beat Louis Domingue for his fourth goal of the season.
Jesse Ylönen with a rocket on the power play (no pun intended) and it's now 4-1 Laval pic.twitter.com/xEyLOo9mqS— Jared Book (@jaredbook) March 20, 2021
The goal gave the Rocket a 4-1 lead midway through the third period. A late Stockton push got them within one, but they held on for the regulation win. It was their fourth straight win as they solidify their hold on top spot in the Canadian division.
It was a slow start to the afternoon game. Although both teams had power plays through the first half of the first period, Stockton had the only two shots. Action picked up shortly after the midway point, however.
With under nine minutes left, the Rocket finally got their first shot of the game, and shortly after the shot Rafaël Harvey-Pinard picked up the puck in the corner before putting a backhand past Domingue.
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard briefly gives the Rocket a 1-0 lead with his 4th of the year. The Heat tied it up shortly after. pic.twitter.com/iJP1HqcYu4— Jared Book (@jaredbook) March 20, 2021
The lead lasted just 37 seconds. The inaugural Rocket captain, Byron Froese, tipped the Alexander Yelesin shot past Michael McNiven for his first AHL goal of the season to tie the game.
Where Laval was able to turn the game around was in the second period. Just over a minute into it, Joel Teasdale forced a turnover deep in the Heat zone, came out in front and put a backhand past Domingue.
Joel Teasdale gives the Rocket a 2-1 lead pic.twitter.com/lSGgA1QHw2— Jared Book (@jaredbook) March 20, 2021
The major turning point may have happened with just over four minutes left in the second period. After a shot hit off the crossbar behind McNiven, Lukas Vejdemo cleared puck off line to keep it a 2-1 game. Shortly after that, another Heat chance was saved by McNiven, and it led to a four-on-one back the other way.
Teasdale took the puck and had the zone entry and initial pass into the slot. Guillaume Brisebois had a touch on it as well before the puck fell to Blandisi at the side of the net who eventually finished off the play.
The goal came shortly after this play by Lukas Vejdemo to clear the puck off the line. pic.twitter.com/irobeUokNt— Jared Book (@jaredbook) March 20, 2021
The two sequences within less of a minute of each other could have ended with a tie game, but instead Laval extended their lead to two.
The Rocket knew after 40 minutes that the Heat would come back strong. On Thursday night, Laval saw a 3-0 second-period lead disappear before they ended up winning the game in overtime.
Although there weren’t many shots early in the game — the two teams combined for 25 shots through two periods — the puck went back and forth throughout the game. Five minutes into third period had one of those moments. Teasdale had a chance to add to his two point night, but couldn’t get his shot off. That led to a Stockton chance going the other way that McNiven stopped with a big glove save.
McNiven was making only his third start of the season — and improved to 3-0 on the season. Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard mentioned that McNiven’s low games total was due to the swap the Montreal Canadiens made between him and Charlie Lindgren to get Lindgren some game action. McNiven was with the NHL taxi squad when the Rocket had five games in eight days, and when he came back the team had nine days off.
After Ylönen’s goal to make it 4-1, Stockton continued to push.
With the game already four-on-four due to coincidental roughing penalties, Blandisi went off for hooking giving Stockton a four-on-three power play. After defending the initial pressure, Alex Belzile tried to clear the puck as Domingue was pulled. He didn’t account for the fifth skater who came on and picked off the clearing attempt. To add insult to injury, Michael Stone’s shot then hit off of Belzile’s stick and got through McNiven to make it 4-2.
Laval got another power play on the next shift after Stone was sent to the box for kneeing Harvey-Pinard but the Rocket couldn’t extend their lead in the final minutes.
That led to the Heat once again pulling Domingue. Stockton got pressure on Laval, and they did get a goal with just over a minute remaining. Martin Pospisil picked up the loose puck behind the Rocket net and fed Luke Philp who was alone in the slot for a one-timer that beat the Laval goaltender.
The Heat wouldn’t get any closer. After Domingue was pulled for a third time, the best chances came from the Rocket who had two tries at the empty net but couldn’t convert. Stockton didn’t really have any offensive zone time in their attempt to tie the game.
The two teams play two more games, including again on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., before the Rocket head to Winnipeg for four games against the Manitoba Moose. It is their only Western road trip of the season.
The defence stayed the same as it has been for the last few games. At forward, Yannick Veilleux served the second game of his two-game suspension. Michael Pezzetta and Liam Hawel returned to the lineup in place of Jake Lucchini and Arsen Khisamutdinov.
The top nine — save for Veilleux’s suspension — has been steady as Bouchard is happy with his mix of veterans and young players, as well as the chemistry they are building. The fourth line gets less playing time. It has mostly been centred by Jan Mysak with the rotation of wingers. Cam Hillis recently played a game in that spot as well.