LAVAL, QC – The Laval Rocket and Belleville Senators concluded their three-game set over the weekend. The Senators prevailed in all three contests as the Belleville–Laval rivalry continued to flourish.
The Rocket hosted the Senators following the loss at CAA Arena nearly a week before. Issues that have plagued the Rocket all season reared their heads once again against the Senators. The Senators, for their part, were poised to capitalize on the chances those mistakes created. Belleville started the game dominating all three zones and never took their foot off the pedal. They outworked and outplayed the Rocket through three periods. For Laval, their lack of discipline once again proved to be their undoing – the Rocket took eight penalties to the Senators’ five. The Rocket penalty kill held the Senators to only one power-play goal, but the constant shifts in the game’s dynamics in Belleville’s favor only helped them build more momentum.
This season’s deciding factor for Belleville has been goaltending – simply put, it’s been excellent when they need it. Laval is a team that relies on a dynamic forecheck and creative playmaking to score goals. When they face the Senators, they’ve been hampered by one of Kevin Mandolese or Mads Sogaard. Friday, it was Sogaard keeping the Rocket offense at bay. The frustration of running into a seemingly impenetrable brick wall in red and black boiled over many times for the Rocket, and their play continued to unravel until the final buzzer. And they weren’t free of the Senators yet.
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) November 27, 2021
With tensions still high, this chippy rivalry returned to CAA Arena, and the game was nearly a carbon copy of the previous night’s. The same disjointed play from the Rocket crept its way back into Saturday’s game, and the Senators met it with the intelligent, opportunistic play that has frustrated Laval goalies all season. Andrew Agozzino returned to the lineup and earned himself a hat trick. The Senators notched another power-play goal and two empty-netters to seal the Rocket’s fate.
While the Rocket are struggling without Ryan Poehling and Michael Pezzetta in the lineup, the Senators are buzzing thanks to contributions from recently acquired forward Chris Wilkie. Wilkie has seamlessly settled into his new team and earned four points (1 G, 3 A) in the three consecutive games against the Rocket. The Florida Panthers drafted Wilkie in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He played four years of NCAA hockey with the University of North Dakota and Colorado College. He signed with the Rockford IceHogs as a free agent before the 2020-21 season. Since being traded to the Senators, Wilkie has flourished in his new role and made quite an impact on the offensive play of this Belleville team, tallying eight points (3 G, 5 A) in six games. Oh, and he has a fun connection to Laval: his father, David Wilkie, spent the better part of four seasons as a member of the Montreal Canadiens organization.
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) November 28, 2021
THE ISSUES ON THE TABLE
The Rocket have been the victims of their own rigidity and lack of discipline. Sloppy play and simple mistakes keep coming back to haunt them where it counts: on the scoreboard. There’s also a lack of consistency and cohesion to contend with. As the team loses control of the game, they stop playing like a well-oiled machine, and play devolves into passes that can’t be completed and turnovers. Frustration seeps in, and the tentative hold the Rocket have on their discipline dissolves. Their goaltenders lose the support in front of the net and allow more goals.
The Rocket’s penalty kill is still clicking, and the three games against the Senators may well have been a simple case of goalies that stand on their heads against a particular team or a system well suited to a specific opponent. Maybe the Rocket will rediscover their identity against yet another team they haven’t faced in quite a long time. Whatever the case may be, the Rocket are dealing with adversity and are not adjusting or adapting to it.
The Rocket are back in action Wednesday and Friday when the Texas Stars visit Place Bell. The Stars and Rocket haven’t squared off since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Riley Diamani leads the Stars in points with 12, while Riley Tufte and Joel L’Esperance lead them in goals with six apiece. Laval’s most significant task will be building the confidence to score again, and they’ll be staring down one of Adam Scheel (2.93 GAA, .900 SV%) or Colton Point (4.01 GAA, .855 SV%) to do it.
The Rocket needs to use these next two games to re-establish what it means to play on home ice and re-acquaint themselves with a winning mindset. They need to use the opportunity and the clean slate of playing a new team for the first time this season to iron out the kinks and reconnect with their team identity. Facing off against a whole new set of opponents might be precisely what the doctor ordered.
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