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The Laval Rocket’s search for consistency

The young team is suffering growing pains.

Club de Hockey Canadien

The Laval Rocket have had a slow start to the season in 2022-23, and everyone with the team knows it. Their 2-5-1 record and .313 points percentage puts them 31st of 32 teams in the league, and that isn’t better exemplified by back-to-back games against the same team ending with a 8-1 win and a 5-1 loss last Friday and Saturday.

The Rocket saw their average age drop from 25.23 to 24.42 from last year to this year per Elite Prospects. Perhaps more importantly, their collective AHL games dropped from 5,848 (7th in the AHL) to 3,308 (13th). That 3,308 includes Nicolas Beaudin’s 137 career games despite him yet to make his Rocket debut. Ten of the 18 players in Saturday’s lineup have under 100 career AHL games under their belts.

The influx of prospects at the pro level that the Montreal Canadiens are going to see will only make this team rely more and more on their younger players. For the most part the young players have been playing well, but there are mistakes being made, and that’s part of the process.

The inexperience is not something the team is using as an excuse, but rather an explanation from why they struggle with consistency not only from game to game but even within games.

“We have highs and lows right now. We’re not consistent right now. We know that in the AHL, it’s so important to be consistent in order to win on a regular basis,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. “We’ll need to find consistency somewhere. Maybe it’s not changing our lines as often, have some guys in the lineup, we’ll have to see what we’ll do.”

The team did make a few changes to try and establish that chemistry. They trimmed the roster by sending forwards Brennan Saulnier and Pierrick Dubé to the ECHL’s Trois-Rivières Lions, perhaps a sign that the significant shuffling of bodies in and out of the lineup is a thing of the past. The team played the same 18 skaters in both games against Rochester on Friday and Saturday.

The team is halfway through a six-game homestand, and has one win to show for it thus far, including a loss with under 10 seconds remaining in regulation last Wednesday. Even after Saturday’s 5-1 loss, Friday’s win was the thing the team wanted to take away from the week.

“We can build on Friday’s game. If we play like that in 95% of our games, we’d be at the top of our division,” said Rocket forward Anthony Richard. “It’s a long season, so you can’t be at 100% every game, but the home games you have to capitalize on them. We can establish a fortress and send a message to every team that it won’t be easy to play here but so far we’re not consistent.”

“We need to bounce back next week,” said captain Alex Belzile. “A homestand like this it’s very important for a season and we have one win in three games so far, and that’s not good enough ... We’re a different style of team this year, so it’s an adjustment for everyone but we can’t fall too far behind with our record”

The most experienced defender on Laval’s roster is Madison Bowey, who is in his first year with the team. His experience and addition to the room is something that will benefit the team, and it’s a role he’s happy to take on.

“We have a lot of guys that have played a lot of pro games and it helps when you go through droughts like this that we can be leaned on and know it’s a long season,” Bowey said. “For young guys, when you’re younger, every game you take it home with you and let it affect you the next day. The big thing is turning it around. We had a huge win on Friday and that’s something we can build off of.”

He says he’s already noticed something very positive about this group as well.

“One thing I’m proud about this group is that we didn’t lose our compete,” Bowey said. “The third period [on Saturday, down 4-1] we came out flying, we had some chances offensively and this group in here we have a lot of heart and that’s something that will get us through this little drought and help us move forward and into the playoffs. That’s a big key of ours that not many teams have, you can’t really teach that. It’s awesome to see the heart we have here, it’s just about coming together and getting that chemistry and clicking.”

The Rocket look to get back on the right track with a home game on Wednesday against the Toronto Marlies as they will face their rival for the first time this season. The two teams play again on Friday night before the homestand finishes with a game Saturday afternoon against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.