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2022 Calder Cup Playoffs

Calder Cup Playoff North Division Final Preview: Laval vs. Rochester

Calder Cup Playoff North Division Final Preview: Laval vs. Rochester

LAVAL, QC – After a pair of hard-fought game fives for both teams, the Laval Rocket and the Rochester Americans are poised for battle in the 2022 Calder Cup North Division Final. In some ways, it feels like both teams are entirely different squads than when they last faced off on April 13th as both teams have worked to establish their own personal brand of playoff hockey – two styles that could not be more different if they tried.

Final Regular Season Records:

Laval Rocket: 39-26-5-2 .590 points percentage (3rd in the North Division)
Rochester Americans: 37-29-7-3, .553 points percentage (5th in the North Division)

How They Got Here:

Laval wrapped up a five-game series against the Syracuse Crunch and has had some time to recover from the grueling series that was ended by Gabriel Bourque during the first overtime period on Tuesday. The story for the Rocket in their series against the Crunch was their special teams. Laval capitalized on 29.4 percent of its power plays, good for fifth in the Calder Cup Playoffs to this point. Cayden Primeau was nothing short of excellent in his four starts, registering a 1.96 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.

There’s no reason to oversimplify how Rochester has gotten to this point. The answer is simple: Arttu Ruotsalainen. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Ruotsalainen has 8 goals, three assists and 11 points in seven games played, leading the league in postseason scoring. In all of their wins this postseason, Rochester has scored four goals, winning only one game in regulation. To say that things have been tight for the Amerks would be an understatement. A much closer than appeared sweep of the Belleville Senators and a tough five-game series against the North Division regular-season champions, the Utica Comets, have earned Rochester their spot in the North Division final.

Series Schedule (Home team in CAPS and all times local):

Game 1 – Sunday, May 22 – Rochester at LAVAL– 7:00 pm ET
Game 2 – Monday, May 23 – Rochester at LAVAL – 7:00 pm ET
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 25 – Laval at ROCHESTER – 7:05 pm ET
Game 4 – Friday, May 27 – Laval at ROCHESTER – 7:05 pm ET*
Game 5 – Sunday, May 29 – Rochester at LAVAL – 7:00 pm ET*

*if necessary

Season Series Recap:

While the season series between these two North Division foes ended in near-gridlock, how they got there was quite a different story. It was indicative of both teams’ starts to their campaign – for Rochester, a strong start out of the gate this season gave them the first three games over the Rocket in a fairly decisive fashion, scoring 15 goals in three games. With a 3-0-0-0 record to start the season series, and at the time, an all-time record of 16-3-0-0 against the Rocket, it was fair to wonder if the Amerks would ever drop a game to Laval.

Then, 2022 arrived. For Laval, a slow start to the season meant that it would need every point they could get in the back half of the season and they did not disappoint. Laval took advantage of a Rochester team riddled by call-ups and injuries and would proceed to win the next four games against the Amerks, outscoring them by a total of 22-8 in those matchups. Rochester would make it four wins a piece in the final game between the two teams on April 13th with a 4-3 overtime win.

Jean-Sébastien Dea and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard led the series in points, both registering 4-7-11 in eight games played against the Amerks. Michael Mersch led the Amerks in scoring, putting up 5-3-8 in six games played, while Jack Quinn and Arttu Ruotsalainen each had 1-6-7 in five and six games played, respectfully. Goal scoring clearly was not an issue for either side throughout the series as a combined 63 goals were scored in the eight matchups between the two teams. Mersch and Jesse Ylönen each had five goals for their squads in the series. JJ Peterka and Sami Niku perhaps underperformed in the season series, but are on hot streaks this postseason, each averaging a point per game or higher.

One of the more interesting stats of the season series highlights special teams. Rochester had one of the top power-play units in the league this season, while Laval struggled to generate many opportunities with the man-advantage. That could not have been further from the truth in the season series between these two squads. In eight games, the Amerks capitalized on only 18.5% of their power play opportunities, down significantly from their regular-season percentage of 23.5%. Laval, on the other hand, converted on 32.14% of their chances on the power play, up significantly from their regular-season percentage of 17.9%.

As alluded to, the season series was not exactly the goalie show, especially for Rochester. In his three starts against the Rocket during the regular season, current Amerks starter Aaron Dell had a save percentage of .860, allowing 15 goals in three games.

Current Rocket starter, Cayden Primeau, fared slightly better, posting a save percentage of .904, allowing 11 goals in four games. The timeline for Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen‘s return is still foggy, however, one can’t help but wonder if he may have the opportunity to backup Dell at some point during the series. UPL had a slightly better save percentage than Dell, posting a .881 save percentage in the season series while giving up 16 goals in four games. Michael Houser, who currently backs up Dell, did not see any ice-time against the Rocket this season. Kevin Poulin will backup Primeau in this series after starting three games against the Amerks, earning a 2-0-1-0 record while posting a save percentage of .898, giving up nine goals in three starts.

How Laval Wins:

You won’t find a better analysis of how Laval wins this series from anyone other than our very own Deanna McFeron, who provided this commentary:

The Rocket played a very complete game against the Crunch. Their team play and discipline were top-notch, but they got outstanding goaltending from Cayden Primeau, which carried them across the finish line. Primeau needs to keep up his impressive play but so do the skaters in front of him. Primeau posted a 0.940 SV% and 1.96 GAA in four games played. He needs to keep his control over the crease and ride the confidence he gained into the third round to give his team the best chance to win.

Laval’s power play was a step out of sync all season but found its stride against Syracuse. The Rocket scored 13 goals in the semifinal series against the Crunch — five of them were power-play goals. That’s not an extremely impressive number but for the Rocket, that’s far more effective than the power play was in the regular season. Against Syracuse, Laval held a 29.4% success rate with the man-advantage — in the regular season, they only scored 17.9% of the time. They need to keep that upward swing going in order to capitalize on their momentum going into the North Division Final. Speaking of special teams, the Rocket tightened up their discipline. They’re going to need to keep that responsibility and continue avoiding the penalty box if they want to move on to the next round. The penalties they did take didn’t put them in too deep of a hole but Primeau and the penalty kill were reliable when they needed to bail them out — they maintained an 80% success rate a man down. They’ll have to keep that up to defeat the Americans.

The key to winning the series for the Rocket is to continue building upon the momentum from the Crunch series. Primeau was on a roll, Niku and Alex Belzile created and capitalized on dangerous looks in the offensive zone, and the entire team adapted to the pressure of the playoffs. If they lose that, they lose the series.

How Rochester Wins:

To quote the series preview between Utica and Rochester, “it all starts with Jack Quinn.” Now, in that preview, we stated that if Quinn didn’t show up for the Amerks, it was going to be a short series that favored Utica – swing and a miss. The Americans found a way to generate enough offense courtesy of Ruotsalainen, Peterka, and Peyton Krebs, to crawl into the North Division Finals. One can expect from those three to keep it going, but how much longer can Rochester find success in these playoffs without Quinn? Although he was able to pick up two assists in the series against Utica, he has performed at a significantly lower clip than in the regular season. The Amerks need the Rookie of the Year to arrive in these playoffs, and they need it to happen fast.

Primeau has been lights out this postseason for Laval, and the Amerks are going to need to solve him quickly. Rochester has not won a game where they put up less than four goals during the playoffs, but they may be hard pressed to score four goals in three or more games against the Laval netminder. For that reason, Aaron Dell will need to pick it up – an .882 save percentage and goals-against average of 3.29 will likely not result in a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for Rochester.

Rochester struggled to keep Laval from scoring with the man-advantage during the regular season, where they had a slightly below-average penalty kill. Amerks fans, take warning, the next sentence is going to shock you. The Amerks have a success rate of 61.5% when down a man this postseason. If the Amerks want to have any chance of not being embarrassed in this series, they have to be exponentially better on the penalty kill. Luckily for the Americans, they have done a fairly decent job staying out of the box, and the other half of their special teams has been pretty sound, scoring on 33.3% of their opportunities.

Somehow, a team that has had its best player shut down and has allowed opposing teams to score on 38.5% of their power-play chances, has found its way to the Division Final – can their playoff formula prove to be successful against a Rocket team that has shown they have the capabilities to keep them from doing exactly that? That’s why they play the games, and both teams are surely eager for the puck to drop on Sunday.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2023 season!

    Jeremy Paul is in his first season covering the Rochester Americans for Field Pass Hockey. You can follow him and interact with him on Twitter @FPHAmericans.

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