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After a frustrating road trip, Laval returned home for a trio of games last week.  It didn’t get off to a good start but they played well against one of the top teams in the league, helping them come away with three points. 

The Week That Was

December 6: Belleville 5, Laval 2 – It doesn’t seem to matter when Laval faces the Senators, it’s just not going to end well.  They coughed up two goals early in the first to once again get off to a tough start and after Tyler Kleven scored early in the second, it was pretty much game over from there.  The Rocket added two late ones to avoid the shutout with two of their physical players – Riley McKay and Lucas Condotta – getting on the board.

December 8: Hartford 4, Laval 3 (SO) – Laval had an early two-man advantage and the strangest thing happened…they scored on it, then scored on the back end of the power play with Philippe Maillet and Joshua getting Laval on the board early.  They carried the two-goal lead into the second but promptly gave that up before the midway mark of the second.  Despite that, Jakub Dobes had a strong game and made several key stops to get it to overtime.  However, he couldn’t stop either shot in the shootout, allowing the Wolf Pack to get the extra point and extend the losing streak.

December 9: Laval 5, Hartford 1 – The Wolf Pack are one of the top defensive teams in the league but Laval found a way to light it up in this one.  Riley Kidney had his first two-goal game, the first of which brought on more than 12,000 teddy bears being thrown onto the ice.  From there, they potted three more in the second to comfortably secure the victory.



# Player GP G A +/- SOG PIMS
4 Tobie Bisson 3 0 0 -1 3 5
10 Joshua Roy 3 1 1 -4 10 0
13 Nicolas Beaudin 1 0 0 +2 1 0
14 Jan Mysak 2 0 0 -2 2 0
17 Nathan Legare 2 0 0 -2 3 7
19 Emil Heineman 3 0 1 -2 4 6
20 Gabriel Bourque 3 0 0 +1 3 0
21 Riley Kidney 3 2 2 E 6 2
23 Nolan Yaremko 2 1 0 +2 1 0
24 Logan Mailloux 3 0 3 E 4 6
25 Brady Keeper 3 0 0 -1 4 4
37 Brandon Gignac 3 1 3 +2 9 0
42 Lucas Condotta 3 1 0 -1 8 12
44 Olivier Galipeau 3 0 0 +2 3 0
49 Jared Davidson 2 1 0 E 3 2
61 Philippe Maillet 3 1 1 -1 5 0
68 Riley McKay 3 2 1 +3 3 10
72 Arber Xhekaj 3 0 2 -1 6 0
81 Xavier Simoneau 3 0 1 E 3 2
84 William Trudeau 3 0 0 -3 9 2


# Player Record GAA SV% SO
38 Strauss Mann 0-1-0 4.36 .852 0
71 Jakub Dobes 1-0-1 1.92 .938 0

Shootout – Skaters:

# Player G/ATT
10 Joshua Roy 0/1
19 Emil Heineman 0/1

Shootout – Goalies:

# Player SVS/SF
71 Jakub Dobes 0/2

Team Leaders:

Goals: Joshua Roy (8)
Assists: Brandon Gignac (15)
Points: Brandon Gignac (22)
+/-: Mitchell Stephens (+7)
PIMS: Xavier Simoneau (44)
Shots: Joshua Roy (76)

News and Notes

– Laval picked up at least a short-term upgrade on the back end when the Habs sent Arber Xhekaj down after activating him off injured reserve. 

– Riley Kidney is starting to figure out how to produce in the pros as he now has eight points in his last eight games.

– Riley McKay is the league leader in a category he doesn’t want to lead the league in – minor penalties taken.  He has been whistled for 14 minors in 14 games (yes, he has been a healthy scratch nine times and still leads the league in that category).

Last Game’s Lines:

Roy – Gignac – Heineman
Simoneau – Condotta – Bourque
Kidney – Davidson – Maillet
Yaremko – McKay

Xhekaj – Mailloux
Paquette-Bisson – Galipeau
Trudeau – Keeper

The Week Ahead

Friday at Lehigh Valley – For a team that is pivoting into a rebuild, the Phantoms are a group that is a bit older than quite a few AHL squads but the extra veteran presence hasn’t given them a big boost in the standings.  Former Kings goaltender Cal Petersen is their starter (his contract was so high that he easily cleared waivers) while a pair of former Habs are on their back end in Victor Mete and Louis Belpedio, who recently re-cleared waivers, playing prominent roles.  Lehigh Valley won the first head-to-head matchup last month.

Saturday at Hershey – The Bears are the top team in the AHL on the backs of a recent nine-game winning streak.  They also have a strong veteran core leading the way offensively while former Rocket winger Pierrick Dube already has 11 goals on the season.  (Wouldn’t he look good in a Laval uniform right about now?)  Hershey also has one of the youngest players in the AHL, winger Ivan Miroschnichenko, who was able to get out of the final couple of years on his KHL deal to come to North America early.

Final Thought

The decision to send Arber Xhekaj to Laval instead of one of Mattias Norlinder (who later went down when David Savard returned), Jayden Struble, or Gustav Lindstrom (pending waiver clearance) hasn’t been a unanimously popular one, to say the least.  But I think it’s the right one.

From a current roster standpoint, Struble hasn’t done anything to warrant losing his spot and the team is gaining confidence in Lindstrom based on how much they’re using him so he wouldn’t have come out either.  Sure, Xhekaj could have been the seventh defender over Norlinder but I’d rather have Xhekaj playing and Norlinder sitting than the other way around.  I suspect management felt the same way since Xhekaj is still likely part of the future plans for the Habs.

Let’s face it, Xhekaj was starting to struggle a bit before his season-ending injury last year.  He didn’t have a good training camp and his play this season before his recent injury was inconsistent at best.  Teams have figured out that they can attack him with speed and blow past him.  He was also a penalty machine which makes him hard to trust in close-game situations.  There’s a legitimate justification to send him down, even if just for a couple of weeks to get his conditioning back.

The good news is adjustments can be made.  Xhekaj can get better in the defensive transition game and shore things up in his own end.  But it’s a lot easier to do that in the minors than it is in the NHL.  When you’re trying to learn something (or unlearn a bad habit), the slightly slower pace of the AHL is crucial to apply the changes he’s being asked to make.  From there, those habits become more ingrained and then (in theory, at least) they carry over when he’s recalled.  Meanwhile, he can work on not taking the bait when being provoked, helping to avoid some of the needless penalties he takes.

Xhekaj’s demotion isn’t a bad thing at all.  Few defencemen make it without some sort of stint in the minors and to think Xhekaj could be one of them always seemed risky to me.  The Habs have rightfully identified that he needs to shore up some defensive issues and are sending him down to work on them.  Then, when (not if) he’s brought up, he’ll be better suited to fit the role on the third pairing they envision for him.  That’s not a punishment as some seem to think it is, that’s called prospect development.  It’s nice to see management finally going this route with one of their more intriguing youngsters rather than just hoping they’ll figure it out in the NHL.