Laval’s road trip wrapped up in a disastrous fashion as they failed to record a single point in three games while Joel Bouchard showed a level of desperation we haven’t seen in his tenure behind the bench.
The Week That Was
Feb. 12: Comets 3, Rocket 2 – This was Laval’s best game of the week but also one where they will be lamenting their missed opportunities. They twice held one-goal leads and went into the third period tied at two. However, a goal from Reid Boucher in the opening minute wound up being the winner for Utica but Laval had three full power plays after that and weren’t able to capitalize.
Feb. 14: Wolf Pack 3, Rocket 1 – Laval went down early as it was 2-0 before the midway mark of the first period and they never really showed much spark after that. Riley Barber scored midway through the third period to make it interesting but Hartford added a late empty-netter to secure the victory.
Feb. 16: Bruins 3, Rocket 0 – Bouchard decided to bench his veterans for poor performance as Barber (who, as noted, had the only goal the game before) and Phil Varone were made healthy scratches while Matthew Peca was dropped to the fourth line. The result was predictable. An offence that was already not doing much did even less in what essentially amounted to Laval throwing the game to send a message. Cayden Primeau made his third straight start and kept them in it for a while before a pair of quick goals in the third put it out of reach.
Goals: Charles Hudon (24)
Assists: Jake Evans (22)
Points: Jake Evans (34)
+/-: Noah Juulsen (+5)
PIMS: Otto Leskinen (55)
Shots: Charles Hudon (147)
News And Notes
– Laval got some good news on the injury front as Lukas Vejdemo (who was initially expected to miss the full road trip) joined the team and played in the final two games. Maxim Lamarche also returned from his injury. Meanwhile, Nikita Jevpalovs suffered an undisclosed injury against Utica that caused him to miss the final two games of the week.
– The change of scenery for Laurent Dauphin has not worked as well as he or the Habs would have hoped. After picking up 16 points in 33 games before the trade, he has just four points in 16 contests following the move.
– Prior to his concussion sustained against Providence, Otto Leskinen has tailed off a bit offensively as of late. Since the calendar flipped to 2020, he has just four points in 18 games. Before that, he had 16 points in 29 contests.
Last Game’s Lines:
Dauphin – Kotkaniemi – Lynch
Hudon – Poehling – Alain
Veilleux – Vejdemo – Waked
Pezzetta – Peca
Alzner – Fleury
Leskinen – Brook
Olofsson – Lamarche
The Week Ahead
Feb. 19/21: vs Manitoba – The Moose have struggled mightily this season and are at the bottom of the Central Division as several of their veteran forwards have underachieved this season (boy, that sounds familiar…). However, the return of Eric Comrie has given them a huge boost between the pipes as he has posted a .927 SV% since clearing waivers. For context, no Laval goalie has a higher save percentage than .898. Expect these to be low-scoring games.
Feb. 22: vs Toronto – The Marlies have won four straight to secure the fourth spot in the North Division playoffs and even had a loss rescinded by the league as their forfeited game will now be replayed later this season. They enter the week with three games in hand and four points up on Laval. This one’s a must-win for them to keep their playoff hopes alive.
While some in the media have praised Joel Bouchard for his gutsy decision to sit Riley Barber and Phil Varone, I will not be doing the same. This couldn’t have been handled any worse if he tried.
Yes, Varone is having a bad season. Part of that is on him. Part of that is also on Joel Bouchard whose categorical refusal to put Varone, a player not far removed from contending for the AHL scoring title, on the front line. Instead, they’re asking their highest-paid two-way player to be a third line checker. (If this sounds familiar, Sylvain Lefebvre was a proponent of this tactic. It didn’t work then either.) Maybe try putting the scorer on the scoring line instead of Kevin Lynch, a fourth line defensive player and things might improve? It’s not rocket science but it hasn’t been tried yet. Heck, Varone’s arguably a better defensive player than Lynch anyway.
Then there’s Barber, whose underachieving still has him third on the team in scoring at a point per game rate that is actually better than his career average. His defensive effort has been shaky and that’s not ideal. But there are other ways to try to quell that without benching him outright at a time where they’re plummeting in the standings and need their best players in the lineup.
Could this work out? Sure. If Varone and Barber magically become their top scorers from now to the end of the season, then this will have been worthwhile. I’m not holding my breath on that happening based on Bouchard’s usage of them though. Varone will be kept off the top line and Barber will be anchoring the second line when they draw back in as if nothing happened. And chances are, their performances won’t change much either.
This was a big risk by Bouchard who chose to bench two of his top players in the middle of a losing streak to send a message. The team responded by laying a collective egg. The message to them was essentially that no one cared if they won or lost this one since they weren’t putting their best foot forward to begin with. That’s not the message you want to send in the middle of a playoff race. While fiery at times, part of Bouchard’s reputation is being collected under pressure. He wasn’t in this instance.
In the meantime, poor Kotkaniemi. He was sent down to get lots of ice time but against Providence, he had the privilege of playing alongside their old fourth line centre in Lynch and the one who replaced him in that role in Laurent Dauphin. Something tells me that wasn’t supposed to be the plan when he got sent down. At this point, Bouchard needs to stop overthinking things. When the team can’t score, put the top players together and let them play. Until he even gives that a chance, they’re in trouble.