After a strong showing against the Belleville Senators over the weekend, the Laval Rocket hit the road for the start of a lengthy road trip, and first up was a stop in Utica against the Comets.
In their way was an ongoing injury fight, with Danick Martel and Cayden Primeau not making the trip with the team, plus the absence of Jan Mysak and Nate Schnarr. Pierrick Dubé was recalled from the ECHL to help round out the lineup, allowing the team to run a traditional 12/6 alignment. Kevin Poulin got the nod, and opposite him was MacKenzie Blackwood who was with the Comets on a conditioning stint.
The Rocket found the quick start they had lacked in many previous games. Just 54 seconds in they opened the scoring as Mitchell Stephens stepped around an aggressive forecheck in the neutral zone to create an odd-man rush into the Utica zone. Stephens passed off to Lucas Condotta, who blasted his seventh goal of the season by Blackwood on the first shot of the game.
50 seconds in and the Rocket lead 1-0 as Lucas Condotta beats Mackenzie Blackwood on the first shot of the game. pic.twitter.com/XkvV2ZCEHg— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 15, 2022
The Comets tested Poulin shortly afterward, forcing the Rocket goaltender into a sprawling pad save, but the chances were few and far between for both sides. Laval’s sneaky counter-attack kept Utica on its heels and eventually it forced Reilly Walsh into a delay of game penalty.
A strong power-play effort came away empty-handed for Laval as Blackwood saved the few shots that made it on net, while his penalty-killers kept the Rocket from setting up for any second chances. The attack was all Rocket though, and an errant clearing attempt was snagged by Anthony Richard, who fed it to Joël Teasdale streaking through the slot. Teasdale wired it upstairs and doubled the Rocket lead with just over 10 minutes played.
It's 2-0 Rocket thanks to Joël Teasdale burying this feed from Anthony Richard! pic.twitter.com/ZAS9gPAugQ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 15, 2022
Things continued to break Laval’s way following Teasdale’s goal as Joe Gambardella took a seat for tripping and put the Rocket on their second power play of the night. Before the Comets finished killing off the first minor, Robbie Russo was called for a slash, creating a two-man advantage.
Just 10 seconds into the five-on-three Anthony Richard worked the puck to Nicolas Beaudin at the point. Beaudin, seemingly on purpose, sent a shot just wide of the net, allowing Alex Belzile to deflect it with his shin to make it 3-0.
I don't think I've ever seen a guy score from behind the net with a knee deflection.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 15, 2022
3-0 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/heMQkwELlR
The Comets did not wilt following the power-play goal as Samuel Laberge broke free of the Rocket power-play unit, creating a breakaway chance for himself. The initial shot was swallowed up by Poulin, but Laberge was able to just poke the puck across the line to cut into the Rocket lead.
A late penalty kill for the Rocket threatened to reduce their edge further, but some strong goaltending from Poulin, and timely clears allowed the Rocket to enter the intermission with a solid two-goal lead.
The start to the second period was much less enjoyable than the first for the Rocket as the Comets pushed hard to try to chip into the deficit. Poulin was sharp between the posts to help keep the Rocket’s advantage intact as the period continued to trudge forward.
While Poulin was extremely sharp, the rest of the Rocket were still doing their best to catch up as the Comets swarmed all over the offensive zone. A holding the stick call on Dubé on a scramble in the goal mouth put Laval back on the penalty kill. Another fantastic showing from Poulin and the penalty-killers in front of him kept the Rocket still leading by two as the period kept marching toward its end.
Before the two teams hit the intermission though the Rocket headed back to the penalty kill for a third time as Tory Dello was whistled for hooking. Laval fought off the first half of Dello’s minor, but had another 51 seconds left to deal with to start the third period.
The combination of Alex Belzile and Gabriel Bourque killed off the rest of the Comets’ power play, and helped to get Laval steady as the third period got under way. Bad luck struck the Rocket after a strong start to the period, allowing the Comets to get within a goal. Samuel Laberge took a pass behind the net and circled toward the front, and as Poulin went to brace on the post and face the shooter the net popped off its moorings. While the net was clearly off, Laberge fired it into the cage, and despite the protests of Poulin and a video review the goal stood regardless.
The Rocket, instead of feeling hard done by the goal against, just came right down the ice and scored to restore their two-goal advantage. Anthony Richard circled the offensive zone, putting a puck in front that Lucas Condotta hit on net, and then Mitchell Stephens powered home the rebound to make it 4-2.
Less than a minute after Utica scored, the Rocket restore their two-goal lead thanks to Mitchell Stephens! pic.twitter.com/3OF6L20RR8— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 15, 2022
A Reilly Walsh tripping penalty opened the door for the Rocket to add a much-needed insurance marker with seven and a half minutes to play. Mackenzie Blackwood found himself scrambling, but the Rocket were unable to chip one by the Comets goalie as the game entered the final five minutes of play.
Blackwood eventually made his to the bench, giving the Comets the extra skater for the final two and a half minutes or so. The Rocket weathered their push and eventually Anthony Richard was able to fire the puck into the empty net to secure the win for the Rocket.
Final Score: Laval 5, Utica 2
Laval stays on the road as they head to Cleveland for a two-game stint against the Monsters on Saturday.