Rafaël Harvey-Pinard scored two goals and added an assist as the Laval Rocket beat the Stockton Heat 4-2 at the Bell Centre on Sunday night.
Michael McNiven made 16 saves in the win. Yannick Veilleux and Ryan Poehling also scored for the Rocket. With the win, they move to 11-0-1 in their last 12 games.
The Rocket dominated the opening frame of the game, outshooting the Heat 14-1 through 20 minutes. Laval’s best chances came on their power play midway through the period. Josh Brook fed Ryan Poehling for a back-door, cross-ice play but Poehling’s tip went wide.
The Heat couldn’t get anything going in the period as the Rocket were relentless on their forecheck, and had their sticks in the way throughout the period. Their only shot came with under three minutes remaining in the period and McNiven was there to make the save.
“What I’m most proud of is their attitude,” said Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard. “It was 0-0 after the first period. We played a great first period. I didn’t sense any frustration. I saw a team in control. The guys are maturing a lot, and they are learning through winning.”
Laval opened the scoring on their second power play with 13:40 remaining in the middle period. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard finished a perfect passing play between himself, Poehling, and Jordan Weal to beat Garret Sparks. Right after his pass, Poehling was crosschecked in the back by Connor Mackey. He was slow to get up, and Brook stood up for his teammate. Both ended up going off with penalties.
The Heat did get more opportunities in the second period. They actually matched Laval in shots in the period, but were not able to beat McNiven on their 10 shots. The chances weren’t great, but they did get some shots off in some dangerous areas. Even when the Heat did get in dangerous positions, the Rocket defence often forced them into bad plays.
Laval finally pulled away in the final period. Only 1:30 into the third, Weal found Yannick Veilleux for a one timer at the side of the net who made it 2-0 Rocket.
Jordan Weal with the feed and Yannick Veilleux with the finish.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 5, 2021
Rocket up 2-0. pic.twitter.com/nPCrnjJhhr
It was Veilleux’s 100th career AHL point and his sixth goal of the season.
Less than three minutes later, a perfect passing play from Gustav Olofsson, Joël Teasdale, and Poehling ended with Poehling scoring his eighth goal of the year.
Ryan Poehling with absolutely no angle, roofs his 8th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/jmym8J159R— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 5, 2021
It was Olofsson’s first game since he left the team’s bubble for the birth of his son. He has been in the Montreal Canadiens’ taxi squad but was sent back to the AHL for Sunday’s game.
The Heat came back strong after falling behind 3-0. Two minutes and 23 seconds after Poehling’s goal, Stockton scored their first goal against the Rocket in almost two games when Mark Simpson finished a wrap around pass from Carl-Johan Lerby.
The Rocket continued to take control of the game and led the third period in shots 13-7. Near the end of the game, Stockton applied some pressure on the Rocket. With 39 seconds remaining, Adam Ruzicka made it a 3-2 game with Sparks on the bench for the extra attacker. After the goal, the team took the timeout to get back on track and go over their responsibilities one more time.
On March 25 against the Manitoba Moose, the team allowed two goals in the final 32 seconds to blow a 3-1 lead. The game went to a shootout, and it was their only loss during this stretch. This time, Harvey-Pinard added an empty net goal with 4.6 seconds remaining to seal the 4-2 win.
“We’re leading every game,” Bouchard said. “If you’re leading 12 games in a row, they’re going to pull their goalie and they’re going to get a few [goals] in there.”
He went on to mention that with the changing personnel due to injuries and roster movement, it was good to get everyone on the same page and close out the victory.
It was the sixth straight win for Laval over Stockton this season. They close their season series on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
Brandon Baddock and Cale Fleury were added to the long injured list for the Rocket. They will continue to be evaluated on a daily basis. Bouchard mentioned that of the injured players, only Alex Belzile is skating.
Arsen Khisamutdinov replaced Baddock, and Gustav Olofsson returned to the lineup in place of Cale Fleury. Guillaume Brisebois was recalled by the Vancouver Canucks and missed his second straight game.
Michael McNiven started while Cayden Primeau got the full day off. Bouchard also hinted that Vasili Demchenko may get a start soon. He has played in one game this season.
Cole Caufield is still in quarantine, and it is expected that his debut will come when the team goes to Toronto at the end of this week. Laval plays the Marlies on Friday and Saturday after wrapping up their homestand against Stockton on Tuesday.
Not much can be said about the run the Rocket are on right now. They are first in the entire AHL in points, and third in point percentage. There isn’t any word on a playoff format for the AHL this season.