Two years ago, there was no question that the Laval Rocket had one of the worst seasons in AHL history. They only managed to win 24 games, and obtained 58 points to finish dead-last in the league. Last season there were definite signs of improvement, but still finished well outside of the playoff picture.
While the expectations are not extraordinarily high for Le Rocket this season, continuing to climb up the standings will grow optimism within the Montreal Canadiens farm system. They started this season slow out of the gate, but they have been able to play some good hockey as the month wore on. Thanks to some veteran leadership and solid play in net, the Rocket has something to be pleased about after the first month of the season.
A good start to the season can serve as a confidence boost for a young team.
Unfortunately for the Rocket, they did not get that.
The Rocket started the 2019-20 season 0-3. This includes a pair of losses in the opening weekend to the Cleveland Monsters. Their third defeat came when they were up-ended by the Milwaukee Admirals.
The silver-lining in their opening three games was that the Rocket kept their opponents within reach. After the opening 3-2 loss to the Monsters, the Rocket’s next two games both ended with their opponents having to score empty-net goals.
The competitiveness gave signs for optimism.
“There are little things we need to work on, but it’s coming along,” rookie defenceman Josh Brook told the media following the loss to the Admirals. “We’re growing as a team and we keep getting better.”
As bland and basic as Brook’s quote was, it was true, and the effort the Rocket was putting in began to pay off.
Earning Some Wins
Two nights after their third loss, the Rocket took down the Rockford IceHogs on Oct. 14, on the road. The next week they beat their divisional-rival Providence Bruins in a shootout on the 16th, before beating the Bruins again two nights later 3-2, both at home at the Place Bell. Within a week, the Rocket went from being down in the dumps to coming back to a .500 record.
However, the joy would not last long, as the night after their second win over Providence, they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Hershey Bears, immediately followed by losses to the Belleville Senators and Hartford Wolf Pack.
Once again, Laval was able to rebound, and defeated the Bruins for the third time in October, followed by a big win over Hartford to end the month, handing the Wolf Pack their first loss in regulation.
Despite the five losses, one of which coming via overtime, the Rocket’s margin of defeat was less than two, not including the three empty-netters that they gave up. After 11 games, the Rocket are 5-5-1.
One of the biggest performers in the first month of the season was goaltender Cayden Primeau. The former standout from Northeastern University has looked exceptional in his first five pro starts. He went 3-2, with 1.99 goals against average that was 14th among AHL goaltenders and seventh among rookie netminders. His .937 save percentage was also 13th in the league.
The most surprising aspect of Primeau’s start has been the calm confidence that he has displayed thus far in his rookie season. In his five starts, he only allowed more than two goals once, that being in the loss to the Senators. If he and Charlie Lindgren can both say consistent, the Rocket have a very dynamic duo in the goal crease.
Belzile Continues to Lead the Offence…
The only Rocket player that is close to a point-per-game pace is centre Alex Belzile. He led Laval in scoring last season with 54 points, and has picked up right where he left off. After scoring a pair of points on opening night, Belzile went on to place his name on the scoresheet in all but two games in October, including a five-game point streak from Oct. 18-26.
…With Some Help
There were a couple of other players that contributed towards the Rocket’s success in October, three of which are tied for second in team scoring.
Despite being demoted from the Montreal Canadiens this season, Charles Hudon has taken to his new role admirably. The Alma, Quebec native scored three goals and two assists for five points in the first 11 games of the season, including a goal and an assist in the win over over Hartford.
After suffering a concussion in the preseason, Ryan Poehling made it back in time for the start of the season, and has shown that he is already a perfect fit at the professional level. Like Hudon, Poehling also scored three goals and two assists. He also scored the game-winning goal in the third period against Providence on Oct. 18.
Picking up points from the blue line was Xavier Ouellet. The former Grand Rapids Griffin showed his offencive prowess that made him so effective back in his junior days with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, keeping up with five points in October. Along with Poehling, Ouellet potted two power play goals, both key contributors to Laval’s 22.7% success rate with the man-advantage, which is currently seventh in the AHL.
There is still a lot of hockey to be played, but given the Canadiens’ farm team’s history since moving to Laval, there is a lot to be excited about for this year’s Rocket. With scoring coming from veteran and rookies alike, and solid goaltending, the Rocket should not be taken lightly as they have been in years past.