Former Laval Rocket goaltender Charlie Lindgren made 31 saves as the Springfield Thunderbirds beat the Rocket 5-2 on Monday night at Place Bell.
The loss ended a seven-game home stand over the last 11 days for the Rocket, and the team came away with a 3-4 record.
“It was a long stretch but we lost games we shouldn’t have,” said Rocket forward Danick Martel. “We had the lead, we lose the game, we get dominated in the second period. We have to regroup and try to pick up points. We missed our chance on this home stand to pick up points.”
The big issue for the Rocket was sloppy play that produced a lot of turnovers. No matter who spoke after the game, the theme was the same.
“We won’t hide anything, turnovers killed the game,” said Jean-Sébastien Dea. “We made mistakes at key moments in the game and they ended up in our net.”
“There were mental mistakes and they can’t happen too often,” Martel said. “We dropped the ball in many facets. We can’t use excuses. In the playoffs we’ll play a lot of games. A game like today is unacceptable [...] We cheated and it cost us turnovers and cost us goals.”
The Rocket opened the scoring 13:45 into the first period when they capitalized on a brief five-on-three advantage. Seconds after the initial penalty ended, Xavier Ouellet fired a shot from the right circle. It was his fifth goal of the season and his first since January 29 (17 games).
It was only a brief lead as less than three minutes later, James Neal’s shot hit off of Nathan Todd in front of the net and beat Rocket goaltender Kevin Poulin.
Early in the second period, Hugh McGing beat his defender with a power move to the front of the net, and wrapped the puck around Poulin to give Springfield the lead. Nikita Alexandrov scored on a one-timer several minutes later to make it 3-1.
The Rocket responded immediately. Martel brought the puck into the Springfield zone and fired a shot on Lindgren. The goaltender made the save, but lost track of the rebound. Martel picked it up himself and fired it into the open net.
That was as close as the Rocket game as Alexandrov scored his second of the game with just 39 seconds left in the middle period.
“We had some good chances to make it 3-3, but the goal at the end of the period broke out legs,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle.
To start the third period, the Rocket pushed hard, and had a chance to cut the lead to 4-3 in the opening minute, but Dea was stopped in close by Lindgren.
Laval outshot Springfield 13-6 in the third period but were unable to get any closer. After pulling the goaltender with under four minutes to go, another former Rocket player, Matthew Peca scored his 18th goal of the season into the empty net.
After seven games in 11 nights, mental fatigue seemed to play a part in the team’s loss, but while acknowledging it had an effect, the Rocket weren’t using it as an excuse and expect to be better. The Thunderbirds are one of the best teams in the AHL, and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
“We had too many passengers,” said Houle. “If we had more players right now there would be a few that would be in the press box. We need to regroup mentally and we have three big games on the road coming up. It’s not acceptable. We need to have consistency in the American Hockey League. You have to work every night. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, you need to find a way.”
“We had the puck on our stick. We gave them the chances. They came off our stick. It’s not that hard and fatigue has nothing to do with that. You can’t give the other team opportunities like that.”
Laval now has a travel day on Tuesday when they will leave for a three-game road trip that will take them to Rochester, Lehigh Valley, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for three games in four days starting Wednesday.
There were no changes for the Rocket from Saturday’s game, except that Louis-Philip Guindon returned on a tryout contract while Tristan Bérubé was released from his tryout.
Jean-Christophe Beaudin, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Brandon Gignac will all travel with the team on their road trip and may be able to return to the lineup.
Tobie Paquette-Bisson and Gianni Fairbrother underwent MRIs and remain under evaluation. Josh Brook is expected to be back next week, but won’t travel with the team for the three games. Alex Belzile and Lukas Vejdemo have more serious injuries than initially believed and will be out until April.
As the Montreal Canadiens get healthy, the Rocket may be able to benefit from a trickle-down effect, but that won’t happen until after the team is back from their road trip.