The Laval Rocket allowed six straight goals that turned a 2-1 lead into a 7-2 deficit in what turned into an eventual 7-3 loss against the Syracuse Crunch on Friday night in New York.
Poor goaltending from Joe Vrbetic in his first AHL loss, an inexperienced defence with three ECHL defencemen in the lineup, and another appalling performance from the penalty kill led to the downfall for the Rocket as they ended their road trip with a loss.
It started off well for Laval, as one minute into the game Rem Pitlick stole the puck in the offensive zone. Pitlick ran a give and go with Alex Belzile and when he got the puck back, Pitlick fired it past Maxime Lagace to give Laval an early 1-0 lead.
The lead was short-lived. Cole Koepke tied the game around three minutes later when he beat Vrbetic with a low backhand shot from the slot to make it 1-1.
A Laval power play provided them with an opportunity to get them back the lead and they took it. It was a great passing play from Pitlick to Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, who then made a no-look back pass to Alex Belzile at the side of the net who had a wide open net. The Rocket re-took a 2-1 lead only 8:02 into the game.
Laval had a chance to extend their lead on back-to-back power plays but they were unable to get anything past Lagace.
After the second penalty, the Crunch tied the game again with just under five minutes left in the first period. After Pierrick Dubé was sandwiched along the boards in the offensive zone by two Crunch players, the puck came back the other way and Shawn Element tipped a Darren Raddysh point shot right between Vrbetic’s legs and it snuck through into the net.
That was as good as Laval’s night was going to be.
William Trudeau, who has really stepped up with all the injuries on the Rocket defence, took a cross-checking penalty with four seconds remaining. Just 1:39 into the second period, Gabriel Dumont scored the Crunch’s first power play goal of the game to take their first lead, 3-2.
Gage Goncalves and Trevor Carrick scored about four minutes apart midway through the period, and just like that it was 5-2 and Vrbetic’s night was done. The rookie had won his first two AHL starts, but did not complete this game, making 18 saves on 23 shots before Kevin Poulin replaced him.
Early in he third period, the game went from bad to worse for the Rocket. Pierrick Dubé took a double minor for high sticking. On the ensuing power play, Alex Barre-Boulet scored to make it 6-2 and to make matters worse, Olivier Galipeau had a penalty that was delayed so the Crunch went right back to the power play. They scored again to make it 7-2 when Simon Ryfors scored.
The Rocket penalty kill went a dreadful 1-for-4 on the night, allowing three more power play goals.
Joël Teasdale scored his seventh of the season to make it 7-3, when he pounced on a loose puck in front of the net.
The Rocket now return to Quebec, where they will host the Cleveland Monsters on Saturday afternoon at Place Bell.
While the forwards are relatively healthy, with Anthony Richard and Jesse Ylönen swapping spots in the AHL and NHL, the defence is a mess. The Rocket only have six defenceman healthy and available. Three of them - Williams, Galipeau, and Centorame have spent most of their season in the ECHL. Williams was signed to a PTO last week and forced into action.
Corey Schueneman, Trudeau, and Mattias Norlinder are trying to pick up the slack, but it’s not easy for the team right now. Nicolas Beaudin was the most recent defenceman to go down. He was injured in the game against Toronto and returned to Laval for further evaluation.
After a solid run of play, a 0-3-1 run sees the Rocket right back in last place in the division. They do have a run of home games coming up, and hopefully they get some health back on the back-end that allows them to turn things around.