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Rocket @ Canucks recap & highlights: A disappointing effort out west

With every game being crucial, the Rocket faltered on Saturday night.

Club de Hockey Canadien

With 15 games left on the schedule, the Laval Rocket were in the final stretch as they pushed to lock down a playoff spot. Standing in their way were 13 games against divisional rivals, but before that they had the first of two games against the Abbotsford Canucks. The Rocket were still without Cedric Paquette, and Alex Belzile wasn’t quite ready for a return to action, but both are expected back within the week.

The forward lines were shuffled just slightly as J.-F. Houle worked to get a balanced attack, which involved moving Kevin Roy up to the second line with Lukas Vejdemo and Nate Schnarr. On defence, Josh Brook was bumped down to the third pair, while Sami Niku was promoted to play with Xavier Ouellet.

The game limped out to a slow start as the teams had just one combined shot on goal through the opening five minutes. The Canucks needed just a second shot to take the lead as a turnover behind the Rocket net led to Danila Klimovich feeding a pass to Brandon Cutler. The Canucks forward fired it through the confusion in front to put Laval down by a goal early.

As the first wore on, the Rocket matched the Canucks shot for shot, but before long the tired legs of the road team began to show as Abbotsford began to pull away on the shot counter. Before long, that one-goal lead grew to two as Carson Focht buried one off the draw to suddenly ramp up the pressure on the Rocket late in the first.

Before the Rocket could escape to the intermission, Gabriel Bourque sent the Canucks to their first power play of the night with a boarding penalty. The Canucks made them pay for it as John Stevens made it a three-goal deficit with a literal last-second goal.

Needing a strong start to the second period, the Rocket struggled out of the gate as the stars of the Canucks ran rampant through the offensive zone, forcing Primeau into a number of saves around the net.

Even when the Rocket gained the offensive zone and began to set up an attack, the Canucks were ready to counter in the other direction. After Schnarr and Vejdemo combined for a few looks in front of Spencer Martin, the puck went the other way and Sheldon Rempal cut across the front of net and roofed a backhand chance by Primeau to make it a 4-0 game.

A holding penalty tossed the Rocket a much-needed lifeline with a power play at the halfway point of the period. However, as things had gone all night for Laval, their power play wasn’t able to set itself up to cut into Abbotsford’s lead. To make matters worse, the Canucks nearly added a fifth goal as Madison Bowey clanged a shot off the left post.

The physicality and nastiness after each whistle continued to increase, and naturally Rafaël Harvey-Pinard found himself right in the middle of it all. After he found a chance on net, Martin gave him a whack with his stick, which was returned in kind by the Rocket forward. Alex Kannok-Leipert didn’t take kindly to that, throwing off his gloves and going after Harvey-Pinard. At the end of it all, the sides ended up with matching minors.

While the shots had grown closer, the Rocket still weren’t able to find the back of the net and entered the second intermission looking for a spark of any kind.

That spark didn’t arrive at all to start the third period as defensive-zone miscues cost the Rocket once more. A failed clear from behind the net was picked off by Jack Rathbone, who walked in and fired a shot off the left post. The rebound kicked out to Matt Alfaro, who had a wide-open net to fire it home to make it a 5-0 game.

Nothing came without massive effort for the Rocket as the third period trudged on. Clearing attempts were batted down, zone entries were denied, and in general the team was at a loss for ways to break down their opponent. Even in the offensive zone the Rocket’s best chances were denied by last-second blocks or stick-checks on their way to the net as the team pushed to find some positives late in the period.

Even a late five-on-three power play turned disastrous as a miscommunicated pass turned into a short-handed breakaway for John Stevens. The Canucks forward neatly tucked it by Primeau for a goal, and put a stamp on a disastrous effort by the Rocket in British Columbia.

With eight seconds left, Justin Ducharme netted a goal to at the very least break Martin’s shutout bid, but that was as far as the positives went on Saturday night.

Final Score: Abbotsford 6, Laval 1

The team now has less than 24 hours to lick its wounds and prepare to play again as they will face the Canucks this evening.