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Laval vs. Hartford recap & highlights: Another blown lead sinks the Rocket

Credit: Arena du Rocket, Inc.

It is never easy to try to figure a way out of an eight game losing streak, even moreso when you are limited by the amount of healthy bodies available to your team. Following Wednesday night’s 5-2 defeat to the Belleville Senators, J.-F. Houle did what he could to send a message to his team.

Veteran Philippe Maillet was demoted to the fourth line, while Jared Davidson was made a healthy scratch. On defence, Arber Xhekaj took over top-pairing duties from Tobie Paquette-Bisson alongside Logan Mailloux. In net it was Jakub Dobeš getting the nod, hoping to shake off the sting of a poor outing against Abbotsford last weekend.

The game started chaotically, with former team captain Alex Belzile nearly scoring just moments into the game, but a goal-saving clear by the defence prevented that. The other way it was Emil Heineman firing a clean look just wide of the net and Joshua Roy not getting all of the second chance. Then things came unglued as Connor Mackey cross-checked Riley Kidney, spurring a fight with Nathan Légaré and sending Laval to the power play.

Before the power play even got into gear, the Wolf Pack took another penalty, giving Laval a two-man advantage. After the power play struggled to make an impact for several weeks, the advantage came through big time. First was Arber Xhekaj running the point on the five-on-three, teeing up a pass for Philippe Maillet that the veteran rocketed by Louis Domingue to open the scoring.

Less than a minute later, the young stars of the Rocket got on the board to increase the lead. Heineman flicked a pass across the zone to Joshua Roy, and the rookie winger fired a shot, followed his rebound, and cashed in to make it a two-goal lead.

A penalty on Brady Keeper put the Rocket penalty-killers to the test, and four of them held up pretty well. The problem was that Dobeš made a bizarre decision to vacate his net anticipating a dump-in, and Hartford cut into Laval’s early lead on his error.

Less than 40 seconds after Hartford’s goal, the Rocket got right back on the board. Logan Mailloux cut through the open space left by the Wolf Pack defence, charging into the offensive zone. Mailloux centred a pass for McKay, with the gritty winger stepping into his shot and blowing it right past Domingue to restore Laval’s two-goal lead.

The physicality and pace continued through the rest of the first period, with Dobeš remaining a bit of an adventure in his crease, but the rookie netminder kept Hartford from tallying a second goal. On the other side of the puck, Roy continued to shine as he tested Domingue repeatedly in the closing minutes. Then, to add an exclamation point, Paquette-Bisson laid a thundering check on Brett Berard as the intermission horn sounded.

Laval had to be sharp out of the gate in the second period as the Wolf Pack pushed hard to cut into the lead. Bobby Trivigno lost his stick in the offensive zone, and took off to get a replacement at the bench. He did so and was all alone behind the defence, allowing him to take a long pass and turn it into a breakaway chance. Dobeš was sharp, kicking out the pad to deny him while keeping the Rocket’s advantage at two goals.

Hartford found its second goal despite the Rocket doing a much better job at locking things down in their own end. Trivigno found open space at the point, putting a shot on net, Turner Elson got his stick on the shot, deflecting it by Dobeš and cutting Laval’s lead to one.

Not even 30 seconds later, the Wolf Pack forced Nathan Légaré into a turnover in his own zone. Dobeš made the first save, but Ryder Korczak potted the rebound and the Rocket’s lead was gone with half the game still left to play.

A penalty for goaltender interference gave Laval a chance to get their lead back, but after a strong start to the game for their man advantage they weren’t able to find that magic a third time. A late push wasn’t enough as the two sides headed into the second intermission tied up, and the game totally up for grabs.

Laval jumped out of the gate fast in the third period, generating pressure with their top two lines repeatedly, while keeping Hartford mostly to the outside in the opening minutes. A short breakdown led to Mailloux being called for interference and Laval’s penalty-killers being put in a high-leverage situation.

The Rocket killed off Mailloux’s minor with a strong effort, and then immediately found themselves back on the kill after McKay took a roughing call 200 feet from his net. Again the penalty-killers handled the crucial situation with relative ease, keeping the score level as the final 10 minutes of regulation approached.

Then it was all Dobeš as he found himself making a number of huge saves to cover up for mistakes from the team in front of him. First a lunging pad save across his crease to deny Adam Sykora a back post tap-in, then, after an errant pass by Brady Keeper, he came across with his pad then swept away the rebound with his stick to keep the game a 3-3 tie entering the final minutes of regulation.

Laval pushed hard through the final minutes, but there wasn’t a bounce to be had and they found themselves claiming at least one point with overtime looming.

Overtime saw possession leaning heavily in favour of the Rocket as they circled in and out of the offensive zone, but were unable to find clean looks on net before the puck headed the other direction. In the defensive zone the Rocket kept Hartford from the more dangerous areas of the ice as the two sides fought to find a winner.

A shootout ended up being needed, but not without the Rocket’s lackadaisical play behind their own net handing the Wolf Pack one last chance on net that forced Dobeš into a quick glove save.

Alex Belzile continued to haunt his former team as he bested Dobeš in the shootout, as did Brett Berard. Neither Joshua Roy nor Emil Heineman could find the back of the net, sending the Rocket to a ninth straight loss.

Final Score: Hartford 4, Laval 3 (SO)

These two sides will clash at 3:00 PM on Saturday in the annual Teddy Bear Toss game at Place Bell. Strauss Mann will likely get the nod in net, while Houle might opt to rotate some of his forward lines again.

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