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Laval @ Utica recap & highlights: A disappointing effort ends the winning streak

Credit: Matt Garies / Arena du Rocket Inc.

The Laval Rocket rolled into their final stop on a lengthy road trip riding high after winning all three games over the weekend. The winning streak had propelled the Rocket into the final North Division playoff spot, two points clear of Belleville. Now standing in their way was the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, the Utica Comets.

There was just one lineup change from the weekend, with Jacob Perreault being inserted into the lineup in place of Filip Cederqvist. Arnaud Durandeau took Cederqvist’s spot on the fourth line, while Perreault slotted in on the third. Jakub Dobeš got the nod in net after winning his starts on Friday and Saturday.

Out of the gate, it was the Rocket pressuring the Comets over and over again, controlling the puck deep in the offensive zone while looking for clean shooting angles. However, despite controlling the puck for most of the opening seven minutes, the Comets ended up on the game’s first power play thanks to a tripping penalty on Perreault.

Laval’s penalty-killers remained in fine form, with Dobeš in particular making a few big saves and keeping the game scoreless. Then former Rocket forward Nathan Légaré got into a shoving match with Dobeš after Perreault had escaped the box and put the Rocket on a power play of their own. It did not last long as Riley Kidney was called for tripping, wiping out the Rocket advantage.

Again the penalty-killers made short work of the abbreviated Comets power play, before drawing another penalty in their defensive zone. The power play failed to really generate threatening looks against Akira Schmid, and sent the two teams into the first intermission without any goals scored.

After a sleepy opening period, the Rocket struck quickly in the second to wrestle control in their favour. Gabriel Bourque collected a leading pass from Mitchell Stephens and broke ahead into the offensive zone before putting a centring feed toward the net. Perreault skated up into the space where the puck was arriving, using his stick to deflect it by Schmid and to open the scoring.

Then the period devolved into the two sides trading power plays, with the Comets generating better looks but Dobeš continuing to be a brick wall and denying Utica an equalizing goal.

Dobeš remained active as even the Rocket’s power play was bleeding short-handed chances, and without Dobeš and his quick pads it would have likely been a drastically different game heading into the third period.

The Comets were the ones to jump out to a quick start in the third period, keeping the Rocket pinned back in their own zone, and allowing nothing to exit into the neutral zone. Eventually the Rocket defence opened just enough for Riley Stillman to backhand a rebound past Dobeš to tie the game just under three minutes in.

The Rocket continued to struggle to break through the Comets’ defensive structure, leading to another lull in the action. Even with back-to-back power plays, the Rocket had no solutions for finding a second goal that they desperately needed. It ended up being the Comets that finally broke the deadlock as the sloppy play of Laval finally bit the team again.

Emil Heineman received a pass along the boards, and just flippantly threw it to the centre of the defensive zone, with none of his teammates around. Ryan Schmelzer was there however, and he made no mistake as he put the Comets on top with just over four minutes left to play.

The Rocket never got remotely close after the tying goal, as the nonchalance and disjointed play led to the Comets burying the empty-net goal and ending Laval’s winning streak.

Final Score: Utica 3, Laval 1

There will be little time for the Rocket to reflect on this loss. They return home for a Friday night meeting with the Belleville Senators as part of a major two-game series.

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