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Laval Rocket run out of juice in loss to Hartford

The team will regroup before heading back on the road.

Syracuse Crunch v Laval Rocket Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

After winning their first two games in 2022 after a long break, the Laval Rocket tried to make it three for three, but they fell short in a 4-0 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night.

It was a slow start for the Rocket. They only managed five shots on goal in the opening period, and they allowed the game’s first goal just 1:36 into the game. Austin Rueschhoff scored his first of two goals on the night.

Laval had the advantage in shots over the last two periods, but Hartford doubled their lead when Lauri Pajuniemi banked one past Kevin Poulin from behind the goal line. The veteran goalie made his second start in two nights, and made 23 saves on 25 shots.

The Rocket had four power plays in the final 40 minutes, but couldn’t beat former Montreal Canadiens and Rocket goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who made 31 saves for the shutout. Hartford added two empty net goals late in the third period, one by Rueschhoff and the other by Patrick Khodorenko.

“We had good chances but we were too slow at making passes, the execution wasn’t there,” said Rocket head coach Jean François Houle about the Rocket man advantage. “Power plays can help you overcome things but we didn’t have it tonight.”

“We had ups and downs,” said Rocket forward Kevin Roy. “They played well. They didn’t give us a lot of space at five on five.”

“We squeezed the lemon pretty hard and there wasn’t much juice that came out tonight,” said Houle. “The guys gave everything to try and get back in the game but the energy wasn’t there.”

Laval did manage to win two of their three games after their long layoff through the holiday break and with a large number of ECHL call ups throughout the lineup.

“We’re satisfied,” said Houle. “The guys are working hard. We have guys that are playing out of position right now. We have guys on the power play who are not usually there. Same thing with the [penalty kill]. We have guys who haven’t played at this level. We need to look forward and get ready for the next games.”

The Rocket fell behind in all three games this week, and Houle says that’s a trend that will need to get reversed.

“It’s paramount for us to have better starts,” Houle said. “It’s tough. It takes a lot of energy to come out and chase the game. It’s been like that the last three games. We did it the last two games but tonight there wasn’t much juice left.”

One of the bright spots for the Rocket over the last few weeks has been the play of the line of Brandon Gignac, Kevin Roy, and Danick Martel. The trio has been the team’s most productive line and a constant throughout all of the roster shuffling.

Gignac left Saturday’s game with an upper body injury in the second period and did not return. Houle says he will be evaluated when the team gets back to Laval, but he expects the forward to miss a few days of practice.

Roy, for his part, was a healthy scratch early in the season but has three goals and six assists in 10 games since the start of December.

“At the start it was an adjustment to a new team, just getting comfortable,” he said. “From there I got my confidence back.”

“We all bring our strengths and when you play with the same players you start to know their tendencies,” Roy says about the trio. “We have the creativity, the energy and the speed, it’s a good mix.”

Roy has six goals and nine assists in 24 games this season.

Changes from Friday’s win in Springfield saw Shawn St. Amant and Olivier Galipeau draw in the lineup for Devante Smith-Pelly and Carl Neill. Houle said that it wasn’t anything that the players did wrong, but he was looking to rotate players in to keep fresh legs.

The Rocket now have a week of practice before they go on the road next Friday for two games in Texas against the Texas Stars.