Rafaël Harvey-Pinard’s game has taken a step forward this season, and the production is starting to follow. He scored his 15th goal of the season to help the Laval Rocket defeat the Hershey Bears 5-1 at Place Bell on Saturday afternoon.
Harvey-Pinard’s goal made the score 4-1 as the Rocket scored four times in the second period to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead. Laval added a fifth goal into the empty net in the third period.
The Rocket forward leads the team in scoring with 34 points in 49 games, and his +18 is second on the team and top amongst forwards. He has points in seven straight games, and goals in five straight.
“It’s all about confidence right now,” said Harvey-Pinard. “I feel good on the ice. I’m opportunistic, I have chances and I find a way to put it in the back of the net. I’m happy with the way I’m playing right now and want to keep it going.”
“I can’t talk enough about this guy,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. “This guy is awesome. The details of his game are amazing. He’s the heart and soul of our team. That’s one of the reasons we gave him an ‘A’ on his jersey at such a young age at the beginning of the year. He shows leadership on the ice in the way he plays and in the locker room. He’s not vocal but the guys look up to him. He never takes a shift off. He opened my eyes and I’m sure he’s opening a lot of eyes with fans and people in the organization.”
He has seen a lot of change since the season started.
“His skating is getting better,” Houle said. “His details of the game, stick on puck, finishing in front of players, third man high. He’s +18 for a reason because he cares about defence. When you play well defensively it transforms into offence. He’s always in front of the net. He takes a beating in front of the net. That’s where you score goals and that’s why he has success.”
“Offence starts with defence,” Harvey-Pinard said. “When you play well in your own zone that’s how the offence starts. The breakouts are easy. Right now we’re getting the puck out fast and we’re getting chances because of that.”
Hershey took the lead early in the game. After goaltender Kevin Poulin took a delay of game penalty, Bobby Nardella scored his fifth goal of the season on the ensuing power play just 4:03 into the game.
Early in the second period, Justin Ducharme skated around the Hershey defence and fired a shot past Bears goaltender Zach Fucale to tie the game at 1-1. Ducharme now has four goals on the season.
Two minutes later, the Rocket took the lead when Kevin Roy fired a shot past Fucale from the corner behind the goal line. The shot found its way through to give Laval a lead they wouldn’t surrender. It was Roy’s 10th goal of the year.
Cedric Paquette had a busy middle part of the period. He got into a scrum with Hershey enforcer Kale Kessy behind the net and both went off for roughing. On the ensuing shift right out of the penalty box, he ended up scoring his first goal of the season to make it 3-1.
“It’s huge for us,” Houle said about Paquette’s addition. “We have [Alex] Belzile and [Lukas] Vejdemo injured. He’s a left-handed centre so one, he wins faceoffs. Two, we lost [Brandon] Baddock who’s pretty heavy and Paquette’s a heavy player. He finishes hits, he’s hard to move in front. So he gives us a bit of heaviness and size and it’s a welcome help down the centre and he can make a big difference for our club.”
Harvey-Pinard’s goal came a few minutes later when Xavier Ouellet’s shot was tipped past Fucale. The four Rocket goals came in under 10 minutes.
“The first period was a little bit tougher, we didn’t play very well in our zone. After that we had good pace, good energy, we were opportunistic and overall we had a good game,” said Harvey-Pinard.
“We weren’t worried after the first,” Houle said. “We’re a team that needs to play the right way. We don’t have guys who have two points a game or a point a game like other teams. We win games collectively. Everyone has to adhere to the way we play and the details of the game. If we do that we always have a chance to win. Every night. We’re always in the game as long as we don’t cheat too much and play the game we want.”
Brandon Gignac scored the empty net goal.
The Rocket have Sunday and a few days off before they return to Place Bell to host the Belleville Senators in the first of three home games next week.
The only change in the Rocket lineup from Friday was in goal as Poulin took the start. Tory Dello left the game with a lower body injury and did not return.
Louie Belpedio remains out with an upper body injury and was scheduled to see a doctor Saturday night after the game. Jean-François Houle has said that the team will likely add a defender to the roster as Tobie Paquette-Bisson, Josh Brook, and Gianni Fairbrother are also still out.
The AHL North Division standings remain insanely close. Laval got some help on Saturday as Toronto lost in regulation allowing the Rocket to leapfrog into second place. The standings change every game, and because teams will play an uneven number of games, points percentage will decide the playoff spots.
The first three teams advance to the division semi-finals. The teams in fourth and fifth will play a three-game series to see who plays the top team.