A wild 2022 continued for the Laval Rocket as they welcomed the Abbotsford Canucks to Place Bell for the first time ever on Friday night. Ahead of the game the team received a welcome boost for the forward group as Brandon Gignac returned to the lineup after suffering a finger injury several weeks ago. Gignac slid into the second-line centre spot, bumping Peter Abbandonato to the fourth line, and Cam Hillis to the press box for the game.
In less good news, Cayden Primeau was hustled off to Edmonton to serve as the Montreal Canadiens’ emergency call-up due to Andrew Hammond sustaining an injury in Calgary. Also missing still was Tobie Paquette-Bisson who was out with an unknown injury, so Terrance Amorosa once again was slotted into his third-pairing spot.
The Rocket’s strong forecheck drew a power play just under a minute into the game, with former Habs prospect Noah Juulsen taking a seat for interference. It ended up being a rather measured man advantage as the Rocket took their time to find open shooting lanes, leaving Spencer Martin with very little work to do in the Canucks’ net. Even with the advantage generating just one shot, Danick Martel nearly made it count as he worked in on his backhand, but his shot just sailed over the crossbar as the power play expired.
The Canucks used their strong kill to help build their attack from there, testing Kevin Poulin repeatedly from range, but the veteran netminder refused to budge. Poulin had to remain sharp as Alexandre Fortin went off for a tripping penalty, giving Abbotsford their first power play of the game. A few big saves on Nic Petan in addition to some strong work from Brandon Gignac allowed the Rocket to escape their own penalty unscathed.
The Rocket shook off their early cobwebs, and the third line went to work harassing the Canucks deep in their own zone. Peter Abbandonato was able to win a puck battle and flick a pass into the slot for Shawn St-Amant. While the initial shot was saved, St-Amant stuck with it to poke home the rebound to give Laval a lead.
Rocket goal!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 5, 2022
: Shawn St-Amant(2)
: Peter Abbandonato pic.twitter.com/cWZB4U6Elg
Laval had a chance to increase that lead as Sheldon Rempal was called for a dangerous charge that hit Louie Belpedio square in the numbers behind the Rocket net. While the first power play was tentative, the second one came out with the Rocket hammering chances toward Spencer Martin as often as they could, but the Canucks’ penalty kill weathered the attack to keep the Rocket lead at just a single goal.
Bad news hit the Rocket to start the middle frame, with Gianni Fairbrother being ruled out for the rest of the night. A Tory Dello interference penalty put the Rocket penalty kill back to the test early on in the period as well to continue a tough opening few minutes for Laval. An aggressive penalty kill never allowed the Canucks to get set up, and the Rocket again escaped without allowing a goal while down a man.
The Canucks still managed to find the back of the net before long as Sheldon Rempal threw on the brakes behind the net, leaving Poulin off his post and allowing Rempal to just tuck the puck behind his skate to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Abbotsford continued to dominate the puck after their goal, while Laval failed to even get the puck into the offensive zone. Before long, the intense pressure turned into another goal as John Stevens blasted a one-timer past Poulin to put the Canucks in the lead.
Even as the Rocket began to muster a counter-attack, the Canucks punched right back with Devante Stephens completing a tic-tac-toe passing play to run it up to a two-goal lead just before the second period ended.
Laval drew an early power play in the third after Dello took a high stick in the defensive zone, giving the Rocket a huge chance to cut into the Canucks’ lead. The power play continued its struggle on the night, and the Rocket returned to even strength looking for some kind of momentum to chip away at the Abbotsford lead.
The effort wasn’t lacking for the Rocket in the third as they continued to generate chances, but their finish was missing as their shots either went over the net or were smothered in close by Martin. With just over five-and-a-half minutes to play, Poulin was called to the bench for the extra attacker to try to pull back into the game.
The attack still pressed hard, but Sheldon Dries was able to pot his 30th goal of the season with a long-range empty-netter to all but cap off the game with four minutes left to play.
The Rocket did add a short-handed tally with 45 seconds remaining, thanks to Martel and Gignac executing a perfect give-and-go rush, but it was too little too late as the Rocket dropped the contest to the Canucks.
Rocket shorthanded goal— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 5, 2022
: Brandon Gignac(5)
: Danick Martel
: Xavier Ouellet pic.twitter.com/OEvg9ZjsJn
Final Score: Abbotsford 4, Laval 2
The Rocket have no time to dwell on the loss, as the two clubs play again at 1:00 PM today. The lineup will likely have some changes due to the injuries suffered on Friday, though Poulin could very well get the start once more.