After a promising month of October, the Laval Rocket looked to keep up with the best in the American Hockey League’s North Division in the second November. Where the offence was a one-man show in Alex Belzile through the team’s first 11 games of the season, November brought a different cast of characters producing for Laval. Along with a stagnant defence, the Rocket are right in the thick of it in the North.
Coming in Hot
The Rocket ended October on a high note after defeating the Providence Bruins and the – at one point unbeatable – Hartford Wolf Pack. They carried that momentum into the second month of the season as they continued to play excellent hockey.
The team swept the first two weekends of November, including a second win over the Wolfpack to start the month. The Rocket followed that up with a big shootout win over the Toronto Marlies, handing Toronto only their third loss of the season. While it will not show up on his overall stats, Belzile played the hero on both nights, as he scored both of the shootout winners.
Laval followed that up with a sweep over the Cleveland Monsters, both on the road. Belzile scored twice in the 4-0 win on Saturday, Nov. 8, with Charlie Lindgren picking up his first shutout of the season.
The Rocket had their six-game winning streak snapped on Nov. 13 in a wild 5-4 loss to the Belleville Senators where Charles Hudon had to tie the game late with his hat trick goal. The following weekend, they fell to a Central Division foe, the Milwaukee Admirals 5-2. It was only the second time they had lost by more than two goals all season, and it was the first time since the opening weekend of the regular season on Oct. 5.
Laval followed up the loss with a 3-0 victory over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers the next night, where Cayden Primeau earned his first shutout of his professional career. The following Wednesday they fell to the Marlies in a 2-1 overtime loss. The ensuing weekend, the Rocket split with the Utica Comets, before falling to the Senators for the second time in November on the 27th.
In the final weekend of the month, the Rocket defeated the Syracuse Crunch with a 4-2 win on the 29th, before losing to the Springfield Thunderbirds in a disappointing 6-3 game where Thunderbirds scored three goals in the third period to hand the Rocket their third three-goal loss of the season.
Despite going 3-4-2 in the final nine games of November, Laval still went a respectable 7-4-2 in the season’s second month. They are currently tied with Utica and Belleville for third in the North in points with 27 but sit fifth in the standings due to the tiebreaker.
Penalty Kill Efficiency
In today’s game where penalties are called at a higher rate than ever before, a team’s success can be determined by how good their special teams are. So far this season, the Rocket have been one of the best in the league in killing penalties. They certainly need to be, as Laval is one of the most penalized teams, sitting ninth in the AHL in total penalty minutes with 294, an average of 12:15 per game.
Despite spending a lot of time in the sin bin, Laval has been excellent at not allowing the opposition to capitalize on the man advantage. They have only allowed 15 goals while down a man, which is in the top half of the league, and have the 10th best penalty kill, operating at an 84.8% success rate. They also have been one of the best penalty-killing teams on the road. Among the rest of the AHL, the Rocket is fifth with an 88.4% success rate away from Laval.
They have also been one of the better teams at scoring while shorthanded, as they have scored five times this season while down a man – tied for fifth in the league with the Hershey Bears and Providence Bruins. Belzile and Lukas Vejdemo lead the Rocket with each having two goals in the shorthanded effort.
Barber Bouncing Back
One player who has been one of the breakout players in November was Riley Barber. One of the offseason acquisitions by the Montreal Canadiens, Barber has come on strong since missing three weeks at the end of October and early November with a knee injury (from ‘Rocket newcomer Riley Barber finds his scoring touch in Laval’, Montreal Gazette – 11/27/19). However, since returning to the lineup, Barber has found his touch. Over the last nine games in November he scored 10 points for the Rocket, with a balanced attack of four goals and five assists.
Barber had a slow start to the season, only scoring three points his first nine games in October, but now is close to a point-per-game player after his exceptional month. This includes a three-point game against Utica where his power-play goal in the third period ended up being the game-winner. Barber was only held off the scoresheet twice in November.
The Rocket started off November on quite a run but slowed down towards the end of the month. Even so, they still find themselves close to a playoff spot heading into December. With good goaltending, depth scoring, and solid defence, the Rocket have a good foundation to be a playoff contender in the AHL.