After splitting a two-game series with the Toronto Marlies and wrapping up a tough road trip with a win, the Laval Rocket were back on home ice at Place Bell to take on the Belleville Senators on Friday. The Rocket were bolstered by the return of J.-C. Beaudin and Gianni Fairbrother, as both players left COVID protocol. While neither player was in the lineup for the game, they were the final two players in protocol for the Rocket.
Also returning to the lineup for Laval was Kevin Roy, who slotted in next to Danick Martel on the third line, while the rest of the lineup stayed the same as Wednesday’s winning group. In net it was Cayden Primeau getting the start for the Rocket, and opposite him was Filip Gustavsson for the Senators.
In the opening minutes both teams traded chances, with the Senators generating a brief bit of possession after a Sami Niku turnover, and the Rocket answering with J.-S. Dea creating a two-on-one rush out of thin air. Neither side found the back of the net, but the Senators were given the game’s first power play to try to break the deadlock as Dea went to the box for tripping.
Primeau was sharp and the Rocket penalty-killers were able to keep the Senators from generating too many dangerous chances as Laval killed off the minor penalty. The Senators continued to keep their pressure on, however, ringing a clean look off the crossbar behind Primeau, but that’s as close as they came.
After weathering the early push, it was the Rocket who found the back of the net first. Alexandre Fortin grabbed a puck along the boards and spun back toward the point where he passed it off to Tobie Paquette-Bisson. The Laval defenceman fired a low shot on net, and it appeared that Devante Smith-Pelly caught a portion of it, deflecting it by Gustavsson to put the Rocket on top midway through the period.
The Rocket lead didn’t last long as Louie Belpedio threw an ill-advised shot into a crowd of Senators and it was easily blocked. Neither Belpedio nor Xavier Ouellet were quick enough to react as Chris Wilkie took a breakaway feed and fired it home to tie the game up with just over seven minutes left to play in the period.
The Rocket were next to head to the power play after Cedric Pare was called for a check to the head of Niku. A turnover immediately led to a short-handed rush by Logan Shaw, and the Senators forward had his shot clang off the crossbar and out to keep the game still tied at one.
As Laval tried to break the deadlock, Belpedio’s shot was also denied by the post, sending the two teams into the first intermission tied 1-1.
The Rocket didn’t start the second period in the best form, allowing the Senators to take control physically in the opening minutes. Then in a lapse of judgment, Ouellet was called for interference from the bench, putting Belleville back on the power play. The penalty kill was again sharp denying the Senators any dangerous chances, and then did an even better job as Josh Brook took his turn in the box.
Martel hounded the Senators along the blue line, and on a loose puck he put the Rocket right back on top. Gabriel Bourque was able to poke a puck free and then Martel hustled past the Belleville defender to break in alone on net before neatly tucking the puck behind Gustavsson’s pad to make it a 2-1 game.
A late power play presented Laval with an opportunity to increase their advantage, ending the period by hammering three chances just off the post to shift the momentum firmly in their favour.
Just 13 seconds into the third, the Rocket went back to the power play with Lassi Thomson taking a seat for interference. Once again, the usually effective Rocket power play struggled to get itself going and the Senators were able to escape without further damage.
The lead ended up growing to two goals before long thanks to the continued hot streak of the Rocket’s top line. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard intercepted a breakout attempt before passing it off to Dea, Dea patiently waited for Jesse Ylönen to get open next to the net, and the shifty Finn fired the pass home for his ninth goal of the year.
Laval’s defensive shell flustered the Sens, and Belleville had no answers as Primeau slammed the door shut in the closing minutes. Belpedio tacked on a 200-foot empty-net goal to secure the victory inside the final minute and push the Rocket within striking distance of second place in the AHL North Division.
Final Score: Laval 4, Belleville 1
These two sides go right back at it Saturday afternoon with a 3:00 PM puck drop scheduled at Place Bell.