Laval had quite a strong week offensively but they weren’t able to get the results they were looking for as they picked up just three of six points despite averaging four goals per game.
The Week That Was
Dec. 27: Senators 6, Rocket 4 – Considering their positions in the standings, this was the one must-win game for the Rocket heading into the week. Instead, a poor showing defensively and an off night from Etienne Marcoux (who, as a result of injuries and recalls is their number one goalie) proved costly. Cale Fleury had his first multi-point AHL game in the losing effort.
Dec. 28: Rocket 4, Checkers 2 – Laval turned to a PTO goalie for this one and wound up getting one of their better goaltending performances of the season. A three-goal first period for the Rocket gave them some early breathing room and they were able to hold on the rest of the way. Lukas Vejdemo snapped a 14-game goalless drought when he scored the first goal of the game.
Dec. 29: Checkers 5, Rocket 4 (OT) – Marcoux was back between the pipes after a night off and he didn’t fare much better this time around. Once again, Laval got out to an early lead (two goals in the first) but found themselves down by one midway through the third. The Rocket dominated the final frame, out-shooting the league-leading Checkers 18-2 and were able to tie it up late on a goal from Vejdemo. However, Charlotte scored early in the extra frame to take the victory.
Goals: Byron Froese (10)
Assists: Alex Belzile (20)
Points: Alex Belzile (25)
+/-: Froese/Lernout (+6)
PIMS: Michael McCarron (46)
Shots: Alex Belzile (81)
News And Notes
– Carey Price’s lower-body injury in Montreal made for an interesting scramble to get Laval a second goalie. The Rocket signed Belleville native Kevin Bailie to an amateur tryout deal for their game against the Senators and hours later, inked Maine (ECHL) netminder Connor LaCouvee to a PTO deal that covered the final two games of the week (and any more before one of Michael McNiven or Charlie Lindgren return). Bailie was released the day after the Belleville game. LaCouvee had three AHL appearances under his belt earlier this season with Utica.
– Karl Alzner was recalled to the Habs following the injury to David Schlemko. Their defensive depth took a further hit when Noah Juulsen left the Belleville game with an undisclosed injury.
– Byron Froese also suffered an injury against the Senators (he took a puck to the head) and didn’t play in either game against Charlotte.
Last Game’s Lines:
Audette – McCarron – Belzile
Shinkaruk – Evans – Alain
Jevpalovs – Vejdemo – Waked
Pezzetta – Martineau – Grenier
Sklenicka – Lernout
Ouellet – Fleury
Moravcik – Lamarche
The Week Ahead
Jan. 2: vs Belleville – After losing a very winnable game to them last week, Laval will hope that home ice will help make the difference against the Senators this time around. Injuries in Ottawa have really hurt their back end as Stefan Elliott and Christian Wolanin were the latest to be recalled which has left Belleville lacking in terms of depth.
Jan. 4/5: vs Rochester – The long stretch of home games (10 in 11) comes to an end with this set against the Amerks who head into the new year with a share of first place in the division. Rochester is without two of their top four scorers on recall but still have a balanced attack led in large part by former Habs blueliner Zach Redmond who leads all AHL defencemen in goals with 15 already. For comparison, the 15 defencemen that Laval has used this season have combined for 15 goals total.
I was tempted to try to do a Year in Review type of blurb here as I did with the Habs Weekly column earlier but let’s face it, there was only one real story of note in 2018 for Laval – the coaching change. GM Marc Bergevin finally pulled the rug out from under Sylvain Lefebvre after six seasons of extreme mediocrity with him behind the bench. (Montreal’s farm teams won just 40.6% of their games in that span.) Player development wasn’t going all that well and while there were some players who did perform well under his tutelage, the list of disappointments is much longer. It needed to happen and while it was several years too late, it finally did.
Enter Joel Bouchard. He’s the polar opposite in terms of his coaching style and while the team success still hasn’t been there just yet, there is certainly some room for optimism with how some of Montreal’s prospects have performed with the Rocket this season. Even Michael McCarron, who cleared waivers and was basically a write-off, has brought himself at least back into a little bit of relevancy in the organization. Victor Mete was struggling with the Habs, went to the Rocket for a few weeks, and looks much better now with Montreal. Jake Evans and Cale Fleury are off to nice starts in their pro debuts as well.
Good things are actually happening on the development side of things which is cause for legitimate optimism for Laval for 2019. (I’m not bullish on their playoff aspirations considering their forward additions haven’t worked out as planned and no help appears to be on the horizon but at least some prospects will be improving which is certainly important.) It has been a while since there has been anything resembling optimism or good vibes when it comes to Montreal’s AHL teams. As someone who has followed those teams for many years, all I can say is that it’s about time that something might actually go right.