The Laval Rocket’s playoff push took another hit with a 3-2 loss to the Utica Comets at Place Bell on Friday night.
It was Laval’s second straight regulation loss at home after a long point streak as it seems that injuries and recalls have finally started to catch up to them.
“For a coach you can’t ask better,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. “Obviously if you get the win it’s better but the guys are working hard. They’re giving everything they have. We’re a little limited skill wise, but you have to give credit to their goalie who made some good saves. I’m really proud of the effort.”
“As long as the effort is there, win or lose, you compete, the fans know you’re giving it your all,” said Houle. “We want to win but am I going to get mad at the players because we didn’t win? They gave it their all. There’s not much you can do. We want the same tomorrow.”
“I thought we played a good game. This time of year, it’s playoff hockey. It’s going to be one goal games coming down the stretch,” said Rocket forward Mitchell Stephens. “We just need to find a way to win these games collectively.”
Laval got off to a great start as Jan Mysak was sprung on a partial breakaway in the game’s opening seconds, but he was stopped by Comets goaltender Isaac Poulter.
The Comets opened the scoring just 3:33 into the game when Alexander Holtz wired a shot from the right circle past Primeau. It was originally ruled no goal, but upon review it was confirmed that it hit off of one post before hitting the bar behind the net and hitting off the second post very quickly.
Things got physical midway through the period. First, William Trudeau took a cross check to the head from Robbie Russo which led to Lucas Condotta stepping in and taking an off-setting roughing penalty.
A few minutes later, Mason Geertsen and Nolan Yaremko dropped the gloves and went off for fighting. It was Yaremko’s first professional fight, and he went against Geertsen, who has 22 fights over the last four seasons.
“Lots of energy in the crowd and I got a little excited, not going to lie” Yaremko said. He played four years of CHL hockey, but the last four years he was at Mount Royal University, where there is no fighting. “There was a lot of rust there. He got me quite a few more times than I got him but [just] trying to get the crowd into it a little bit,” he said.
The Rocket tied the game at the 10:23 mark when Mitchell Stephens completed a beautiful give and go with Gabriel Bourque. After a slow start, it was Stephens’ 14th goal of the season and ninth since February 10. He also has goals in six of his last nine games.
Stephens crée l’égalité!— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) March 17, 2023
Stephens ties the game! #GoRocket https://t.co/FIrQlfeKZx pic.twitter.com/QAtfCKMXgp
Before the end of the period, the Comets re-took the lead when Brian Halonen drove the net on a rush and snuck the puck past Primeau.
Utica opened their lead to 3-1 when Aarne Talvitie finished a two-on-zero rush with Samuel Laberge following a Rocket turnover at their own blue line. Primeau had no chance on the play.
The physicality continued after another Condotta chance. Xavier Simoneau hit Simon Nemec, and two Comets took exception, leading to three roughing penalties on the play. It led to a Laval power play, but the Rocket were unable to capitalize, and ended the night 0/3. The penalty kill, however, was 4/4 so neither team had an advantage on special teams.
The Rocket continued getting chances, and outshot the Comets 17-11 in the second period, but they could not beat Poulter, who made 32 saves in the game. Pierrick Dubé had a chance with around five minutes remaining but hit the post behind Poulter.
Laval had another power play chance late in the second after another scrum ensued near the benches, but could not convert.
The third period started with Cayden Primeau forced to make big saves in the opening minutes as he played very well in the final two periods to keep the Rocket within striking distance. He made 31 saves in the loss.
That seemed to pay off just over five minutes into the final frame when Simoneau had a breakaway. He looked behind him and saw Dubé streaking behind him for a partial two-on-zero break. He passed the puck and Dubé made no mistake to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Simoneau et Dubé s’échappent = #GoRocket https://t.co/n43hgRnIh5 pic.twitter.com/FiYOR16qaU— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) March 18, 2023
“I knew he was coming, I knew he was going to keep going and beat his defender,” said Simoneau. “It’s been a long time since I scored but when you basically have a two-on-zero like that, the percentages are higher with a pass so you don’t worry about the statistics and you put the team first. We had to absolutely score on that chance.”
Primeau continued to make big saves, with his best coming with under 12 minutes remaining when Holtz was left wide open in front.
“He made some key saves and kept us in the game and kept it tight,” said Houle. “We have to find a way to score a little more goals.”
Late in the game, the Rocket pushed hard for the equalizer, pulling Primeau for the extra attacker. They managed some great chances, but were unable to beat Poulter.
“Our offensive guys need to find a way to get the puck behind the goalie,” said Houle. “We had point-blank chances tonight, Grade-A’s right in the slot, but somehow it hit the goalie. Sometimes there are games like that.”
The two teams play again on Saturday afternoon with puck drop ay 3:00 p.m.
Notre alignement pour ce soir— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) March 17, 2023
Our lineup against the Comets! #GoRocket pic.twitter.com/KTEAJVwFpe
Cayden Primeau got another start for the Rocket. Nicolas Beaudin was injured and was scratched, as were Frederic Allard and Jayden Struble who are working their way into the lineup. Struble just arrived and met the coaching staff on Friday, and will not play this weekend.
At forward, John Parker-Jones was a healthy scratch. Louis Boudon made his Rocket debut. Danick Martel, who recently returned after missing three months left the game in the second period and did not return. He was being still evaluated after the game.
The Rocket fell to last place in the division with their third straight regulation loss and with 12 games to go are running out of time, but the division is still so close that they have everything to play for with a run of good results. The top five teams make it into the playoffs.