The Laval Rocket rolled into Ottawa for the first of three games against the Belleville Senators, after an unexpected week off. The Rocket should have been playing a game against the Toronto Marlies, but a COVID-related incident put those games on hold for the time being. The AHL was able to think on its feet and shift the schedule around, allowing the Rocket to still play and avoid a two-week unintentional break.
The slight break allowed Laval to finally get many of their injured bodies back in the lineup. While Cole Caufield and Xavier Ouellet were out west with the Canadiens, Joël Bouchard was bolstered by the return of Alex Belzile, Lukas Vejdemo, and Jesse Ylönen on Wednesday night. With Charlie Lindgren on the taxi squad, the starter’s net belonged to Michael McNiven, while Vasili Demchenko served as his backup.
The Rocket looked a bit rusty coming out of the gate in the opening minutes, with a disjointed breakout plan hampering their offensive efforts. A failed clear was kept in by Cole Cassels, and he dished it off to Jack Dougherty, whose rebound allowed Mark Kastelic to pot the game’s first goal by a down-and-out McNiven.
The Senators’ goal seemed to wake the Rocket up, as the team found its legs and began to find more offensive-zone time. The increased pressure forced Lassi Thomson into a hooking penalty, allowing Laval to ice their ever-dangerous power play. The Rocket managed a few good looks, but were not able to find the back of the net, but it did finally click their offence back into gear.
With the shots flowing and the pressure continuous, the Rocket found the back of the net themselves. Laurent Dauphin won the puck and fed it to Belzile along the right wall. The veteran winger dished it to Tobie Paquette-Bisson at the point and the rookie defender snapped his first career AHL goal past Filip Gustavsson to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Tobie Paquette-Bisson gets his first AHL goal for the Rocket! pic.twitter.com/QtJ6je7vME— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 21, 2021
Coming off a faceoff just a few minutes later, the Rocket found themselves suddenly leading over the Senators. Joseph Blandisi won the draw to Joel Teasdale, and the rookie forward continued his impressive season by wiring his seventh goal of the season by Gustavsson to take the lead late in the first period.
Heck of a shot by Joël Teasdale to make it 2-1 Rocket pic.twitter.com/bvcgjmltEV— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 21, 2021
To make things worse for the Senators, a tripping penalty immediately left them short-handed after the goal. Laval continued to pile on the shots, but weren’t able to convert on this power play either, and went into the intermission up by a goal and in full control of the game.
That control was only strengthened at the start of the second when the Rocket doubled their lead just a minute in. Belzile worked down the left boards, then slammed on the brakes, dekeing a Senators defender out of his skates before throwing a shot on net. The puck was tipped home by Vejdemo who was left uncontested in front of the Senators’ net, and made it a 3-1 game.
Alex Belzile has his shot tipped home by Lukas Vejdemo.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 22, 2021
Rocket up 3-1 and Belzile already has two points in just over a period of play. pic.twitter.com/L84ebKPSFw
The Rocket followed that up by taking a too many men on the ice penalty, and after a strong start to their penalty kill, they drew a slashing call pushing the game to four-on-four. With the extra space, Laval continued to hound the Senators in their own zone, but Gustavsson kept the puck out as the Rocket swarmed all around his net.
Then it was Laval’s turn to take more ill-timed penalties, with Michael Pezzetta taking a high-sticking call and then Gustav Olofsson taking a holding penalty in rapid succession. Another incredible showing from McNiven on the two man advantage held the opposition at bay. With the Senators swarming, McNiven managed to lunge back across his crease to make a diving save along the goal line, and then smother any chance of a rebound.
Michael McNiven dives and steals a goal from the Senators during a 5 on 3 PK pic.twitter.com/IAwdvS7Q4s— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 22, 2021
That huge save allowed the Rocket to keep their two-goal lead intact heading into the third period.
For Belleville, the third period only brought more pain as the Rocket continued to relentlessly hammer the Senators. A drop-pass from Paquette-Bisson to Ryan Poehling allowed the Rocket centre to work in through the faceoff circle. Poehling loaded up his shot and then fired a wrister off the post and in for his 10th goal of the season.
That's 10 goals on the year for Ryan Poehling! pic.twitter.com/HePlCaZmv1— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 22, 2021
Just over a minute later, the lead increased to four goals thanks to an ill-advised pass from Thomson. The defenceman threw a pass right up the middle of the ice where it was intercepted by Belzile, and he dished it to a wide-open Vejdemo who prodded the puck home to make it a 5-1 game.
Second goal for Lukas Vejdemo, third assist for Alex Belzile.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 22, 2021
It's a rout in Ottawa, 5-1 Rocket pic.twitter.com/9faYlODAKw
From there, things started to unravel for the Rocket, beginning with Yannick Veilleux shooting the puck into the Belleville net after the whistle, and drawing a two-minute penalty for his troubles. Angus Crookshank converted on the man advantage to give the Senators the faintest bit of light with 10 minutes left to play, and it that spark was all Belleville needed to get rolling.
The Rocket seemed to be cruising right for the easy win, but a pair of penalties late in the period put them back on another three-on-five penalty kill. Despite McNiven’s best efforts, the Senators potted one with just under three minutes left to play, making it a two-goal game. With Vejdemo still in the box, the Sens pulled Gustavsson for the extra attacker, and despite Laval killing the penalty, Parker Kelly managed to drive home another Sens goal to make it a one-goal affair.
Laval managed to just barely hang on, as a timely clear out of the zone and a big blocker save from McNiven helped the Rocket avoid dropping a point to the Senators, and leave with yet another two points in the standings.
Final Score: Laval 5, Belleville 4
With the AHL reworking the schedule a bit, these two teams will face off again on Friday evening at 7:00 PM EDT. There’s no word on who will get the start in net.
- Lukas Vejdemo (2G)
- Mark Kastelic (1G, 1A)
- Alex Belzile (3A)