After a 3-0 loss in Game 4 of the North Division semi-final, Laval Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle was asked how he felt about the 11 forward and seven defencemen alignment he used for the previous three games.
“I’ve liked it before tonight,” Houle said. “When you lose it puts things into perspective, and now you’re thinking ‘our forwards look a little tired, we didn’t generate as much offence as we should’ so we might have to change our plan. It worked the other two games... That’s playoffs.”
At the team’s practice on Monday in Syracuse, we got some hints as to what Houle may be thinking. Jean-Christophe Beaudin and Peter Abbandonato both took more reps, and notably both play centre. With Cédric Paquette banged up, and Nate Schnarr day-to-day and missing Monday’s practice for treatment, the Rocket would need to play players who can play down the middle. Kevin Roy, who has been skating with a shield after taking a puck to the face during a game, is also available to re-enter the lineup.
Schnarr skated during the team’s optional morning skate on Tuesday and will be a game-time decision.
“We’re going to look to get some more offence and some fresh legs,” Houle said.
Devante Smith-Pelly and Mattias Norlinder seem to be the players who would sit if the team goes through with changes.
“We need more offence. We didn’t score any goals. We didn’t have many shots, it was the game with the fewest chances. For us it will be important to create more chances.”
On defence, the seven defencemen rotated pretty well, with Tobie Paquette-Bisson playing on the penalty kill, and Norlinder taking some of his even strength shifts. With the strong play of Xavier Ouellet, Louie Belpedio, Corey Schueneman, and Sami Niku, spots are hard to come by, and the depth the team has is part of the reason they wanted to play all seven defenders. Tory Dello is the team’s other right-shot defenceman.
Houle mentioned that there’s still a chance the team goes with seven defencemen depending on the status of certain players.
The team also has a lot of experience. They have Stanley Cup winners, and they have players who have gone through long playoff runs in junior. That experience, even if it isn’t at the AHL level is important as players get ready for a winner-take-all game.
“It’s one game. You can’t stress,” Houle said. “You have to show up and play your best game of the year to try and win. I think our guys know we have a job to do and they’ll be ready.”
The Syracuse Crunch, ironically, also went with an 11-7 lineup in Game 4. Hugo Alnefelt, who came in the game due to Maxime Lagacé’s injury, is likely to start Game 5.