BELLEVILLE, ON – The Laval Rocket and Belleville Senators faced off Saturday night in a rematch of Friday’s blowout win for the Rocket.
Friday, the two met on Rocket turf at Place Bell in Laval. Saturday’s tilt was held at CAA Arena – Belleville’s home barn.
Belleville’s home opener started with a frenzy on both sides. After a bit of back-and-forth between the two offensive zones, the home team takes a moment to test Laval goaltender Michael McNiven. McNiven was up to the task, however, making an easy save. Belleville camped out in the offensive zone and launched a few more shots toward the Rocket netminder early in the opening minutes of the first period. When the Rocket finally get the puck in front of Senators goalie Mads Sogaard, they let loose a test shot of their own, which is readily swallowed up.
The first penalty of the game was assessed to Rocket forward Brandon Baddock for holding at 07:10. Belleville’s power play set to work, looking for some momentum to build on but finding visiting sticks and bodies in the way. The unlucky Senators took another step to the back foot when Laval made the most of a sloppy sequence and headed full steam to the other end of the ice on a short-handed breakaway. Sogaard kept the attacking Rocket off the scoreboard, but the visitors carried on looking for goals a man down. The Senators were unsuccessful by the end of the two-minute mark, but there was another cause for concern – Ryan Poehling was heading off to the locker room.
During the Senators’ power play, Poehling was involved in a battle along the boards behind McNiven, where he was hit in the back of the head as a result of the aggressive play. He has a history of concussions that have stopped him from playing in the two seasons he’s been with the Rocket, so the decision to remove him from the game came as no shock.
The Senators got another shot at the man advantage at the 14:14 mark when Danick Martel was sent off for tripping. This time, just like last time, Belleville looked disorganized on the power play and were not done any favors by Laval’s disruptive penalty kill strategy. And, just like last time, the Rocket take some chances short-handed to try and open the scoring. Gianni Fairbrother took a delay of game penalty at 15:59 to add a little 5-on-3 action to the mix. Both the two-man advantage and the remainder of the power play from Fairbrother’s minor came up short.
One last push from both sides rang in the buzzer and ended the period with the Senators holding a firm lead on the shot clock, but neither team making an appearance on the score sheet.
When the puck dropped for the second, the Rocket matched the Senators’ energy through the first – hungry and ready to play, to win. The Rocket power play got their first chance of the night at 01:11 when Colby Williams was sent to the box for high-sticking. Laval had some good looks, but – as was the theme of the night – the best chance came from the short-handed team due to a bad turnover.
On the tail of the failed power play, the foes reverted to trading time in one another’s zones. Nearly four minutes into the period, former Rocket Jake Lucchini – who was traded to Belleville for future considerations on October 12 – finally broke the scoreless tie off a feed from Kole Sherwood, who intercepted the puck on an unfortunate pass that was thwarted by an untimely stick break. The change of the tide didn’t faze the Rocket, but it lit a fire underneath the Senators. The home team doubled down on the pace and the pressure in the offensive zone and found another layer to the disruptive neutral and defensive zone play they enjoyed through the first 20 minutes.
That intensity and drive forced the Rocket to overcompensate and make mistakes that could be capitalized on. Any time the Senators were in front of McNiven, they threatened to extend the lead. Ten minutes into the frame, Lucchini did just that. Assisted by Cole Reinhardt and Rourke Chartier, the night’s lone goal-scorer tapped in a rebound to notch his second of the game.
Fifty-one seconds later, Martel and Lassi Thomson headed to the sin bin for roughing, and the ice opened up for two minutes of 4-on-4. With nothing lost and nothing gained, both teams returned to even strength, and the Senators exerted total control over the rest of the game. At 13:28, Sherwood once again set up a teammate for a shot that made it to the back of the net. Matthew Wedman’s wrister launched past McNiven and lit up the scoreboard to extend the lead to three goals. But you know what they say about three-goal leads in hockey.
Following Wedman’s goal, the Rocket opted to sit McNiven in favor of Cayden Primeau. Although McNiven was strong throughout the first period, Belleville seemed to have his number, and, as a mercy, he was pulled. Rocket captain Xavier Ouellet took a holding minor at 14:16, and Thomson – with help from Roby Jarventie – netted a power-play goal for the home team to extend the lead to four. If the Senators hadn’t shown that they were in total control of the game before, they certainly made it clear that they were after Thomson’s goal.
Five-and-a-half minutes to play in the second, and Reinhardt put the Senators down a man one more time, but the Rocket failed to outmaneuver their opponents. The Rocket power play fades without a goal, and the game marches on, right into Laval’s sixth penalty of the night. At 19:09, Laurent Dauphin gets flagged on a hooking minor. The second period ends on a Belleville power play that will stretch into the third.
The Rocket’s overwhelming lack of discipline meant they came into the final 20 minutes at a manpower disadvantage. The penalty killers and Primeau keep the buzzing Senators from pulling even further ahead, but the floundering Rocket were still no closer to solving the Sogaard puzzle. At the 03:31 mark, Kevin Roy adds his name to the Laval penalty minutes column with an interference minor. The penalty kill was, once again, stellar and had great chances short-handed. Through the middle third of the period, the Rocket finally seemed to find life, pushing to break the shutout and mount a full-scale comeback.
The Senators, however, were ready for them. They locked down the neutral zone and launched a counterattack that kept the visitors from spending enough time in the offensive zone to create anything too dangerous. Twelve minutes in, though, the Rocket broke through the defenses, and Ouellet – along with Michael Pezzetta – took a chance to capitalize on a minor breakdown of the backcheck. Dauphin deflected Ouellet’s shot, and just like that, the Rocket showed up to play hockey.
Motivated by Dauphin’s goal, the Rocket flashed glimpses of the team the Canadian Division was dominated by last season. But last season, Laval’s biggest challenge was Belleville. And this game was turning into a case study as to why that was. The Senators were ready for a pushback following the Laval goal. The hosts refused to budge through the bulk of the second half of the frame as the visitors dug deep to find the offense they enjoyed Friday night.
With four-and-a-half minutes left in the game, Primeau headed to the bench for an extra attacker. The Rocket were making their last stand. Almost immediately, Laval iced the puck twice in a row, looking for a stretch pass up the right-side boards. They didn’t get to enjoy the benefits of the extra attacker for very long as Primeau was forced back into his net for defensive zone faceoffs. When he skated back to the bench so the Rocket could camp out in the Senators’ end, Pontus Aberg made them pay, potting the empty netter.
Undeterred, the Rocket unleashed total chaos in front of Sogaard and Dauphin tapped home his second of the game with help from Pezzetta and Lukas Vejdemo. Mark Kastelic closed the period with a high-sticking penalty at 18:33 that the Rocket failed to capitalize on before time expired, and the final buzzer sounded on a Senators victory for their home opener. Before the goalie hugs and the salute to the fans could commence, Jonathan Aspirot and Martel unleashed the tensions that had permeated the entire evening, tangling up with one another as the whistle blew to end the game.
The Rocket and the Senators both hold a 1-1-0 record on the year and will face off against one another ten more times before the regular season is over.
The Rocket return to play Wednesday, October 20, at 6:30 pm Eastern when they take on the Manitoba Moose at home.
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