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How Do You Solve A Problem Like Manitoba?

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Manitoba?

MONTRÉAL – How do you solve a problem like Manitoba? The Laval Rocket were unable to answer that question on Wednesday night against the Manitoba Moose as special teams and goaltending were the difference-makers in the 4-2 Moose victory. 

PRE-GAME  

On Wednesday, the Canadiens announced that they had released Head Coach Claude Julien and Associate Coach Kirk Muller. Canadiens Assistant Coach Dominique Ducharme was promoted to Head Coach, and Rocket Assistant Coach Alex Burrows was promoted to the Montréal coaching staff.   

FIRST PERIOD  

The Moose and the Rocket squared off in a rematch of Monday night’s tilt that saw the visitors best the home team in a 3-2 overtime win. The Moose won the opening faceoff, but both teams started the game matching one another’s intensity, trading hits in both defensive zones. The Moose managed to take control early in the period with strong puck possession and laying the body to work the Rocket off of the puck.   

Laval matched Manitoba’s style of play and worked their way back into possession of the puck. The early minutes of the first period set the tone for the rest of the game – see-sawing between defensive zones – with both goalies standing tall in the net on early testings.   

The Moose laid on some pressure through the neutral zone and spent a few shifts in the Rocket’s zone before being forced back to center ice. A smart poke by defenseman Otto Leskinen at the Rocket blue line found its way to Laurent Dauphin, who carried it into the offensive zone and passed it off to Michael Pezzetta. Pezzetta launched the puck at Moose goaltender Mikhail Berdin but came up empty. Leskinen recovered the puck once again and dished it over to Brandon Baddock. Baddock cut in on the goalie and let loose a wrister that found its way to the back of the net to score his first as a Rocket.   

The home team tried to build on the momentum from Baddock’s goal, and Yannick Veilleux let a shot fly, but Berdin turned the shot away. Both teams seemed to have mastered their opponent’s blue lines, using them as a turnover point to regain possession. The Moose had the slightest edge early on – jamming Rocket lanes to break up passes and creating as much traffic as possible for their opponents to have to skate through.   

Through the first half of the period, both teams continued to match the pace and intensity. Laval’s building momentum was abruptly halted when captain Xavier Ouellet was handed the game’s first penalty for interference through the neutral zone, followed immediately by a tripping penalty to Jordan Weal. However, the Laval penalty kill staved off the Moose power play, and both teams returned to even strength, no worse for wear.   

A collision between two Rocket players near the blue line left a gaping hole in defensive coverage in front of Laval goaltender Charlie Lindgren. However, Nicholas Jones capitalized on the opportunity by parking in the spot directly behind and to the right of Lindgren. Bobby Lynch and Hayden Shaw passed the puck around and tossed it toward Lindgren, who failed to control the rebound, and Jones was there to tap in the loose puck to tie the game at one apiece with just under five minutes remaining in the period.   

The period ended with the score tied at one, the Rocket just edging out the Moose on the shot clock 9-6.   

SECOND PERIOD   

The teams returned for the second period to pick up right where they left off – the tone and pace of the game unchanged from the buzzer that ended the first. The Rocket won the first faceoff of the period, but both teams continued to trade momentum and possession.   

Then, a comedy of errors ensued.   

Weal intercepted the puck in the Moose defensive zone and tried to cut around a defender but lost an edge and went down, coughing up the puck to Kristian Reichel. Reichel attempted to exit the zone, making it about one stride before coughing the puck up to Leskinen. Leskinen, to his credit, ran with his unexpected possession of the puck and entered the offensive zone cleanly and on two feet. He took a shot on a great scoring chance that was met with equally great goaltending by Berdin.   

The Rocket pushed the pace early in the second, spending more time in the Moose zone and launching shots from just about anywhere, determined to solve the Berdin riddle one more time. To counter this, the Moose doubled down on the physicality they displayed throughout the first period, with both teams muscling each other off of the puck. The Rocket turned their effort to lock down the neutral zone and, when they couldn’t, clearing their defensive zone quickly while limiting the number of shots Lindgren had to face. The Moose responded by ramping up the pressure on the puck carrier trying to break into or out of any particular zone.   

The Rocket used the second period to rack up a ton of smart shots, but Berdin worked miracles in the crease to keep the pucks in front of him rather than behind. The Moose got the Rocket hemmed into the defensive zone for a couple of shifts and vice versa. Once in the Moose zone, the Rocket ratcheted up the pressure even higher, but the Moose, as moose are known to do, refused to back down with Berdin leading the way but well supported by the defense playing in front of him.  Jesse Ylönen was sent to the box for two minutes to serve a penalty for holding, being whistled while battled for possession of the puck. There were 46 seconds left in the period, and the Moose were looking to turn the tide on their third power play of the evening.   

The Rocket penalty killers were strong on the puck for 46 seconds, clearing the zone every chance they got, while the Moose power play units jumped back on the puck to drive back toward Lindgren. The buzzer to end the period cut the power play almost cleanly in half, but the Moose already had more momentum to start the second half strong when the puck dropped for the third.  

THIRD PERIOD  

Depending on your team loyalty, starting a period on a power play is either the best thing to happen or the absolute worst. The Moose began the third with both a man advantage and the benefit of the momentum swinging in their direction from the short amount of power-play time to close out the previous frame – and they capitalized on that.  

The Moose broke into the offensive zone and forced the Rocket to clear too big of a lane. Reichel accepted a pass from Tyler Graovac and tapped in a backdoor one-timer to take the lead 32 seconds into the first period.   

Not willing to accept defeat, the Rocket turned around and gave Berdin a chance to make a save, but he still wouldn’t budge on an in-tight opportunity by Veilleux. The early power-play goal by Reichel frustrated Laval, and the team seemed to be a touch more disorganized through the early parts of the period. Both squads, determined to come out victorious, put their noses to the grindstone and piled on more pressure. But that disorganization from the Rocket came back to haunt them.   

Baddock entered the offensive zone a hair ahead of the puck and shot it at Berdin after the linesman blew the whistle to call the play dead – earning him a two-minute window to reflect upon the meaning of a linesman’s whistle and the consequences of shooting at a goalie when it’s been blown. The Moose saw a golden opportunity here: they could use some of the chaos in the Rocket’s play against them on the man-advantage and force them out of position again. This is precisely what they did – the power play unit was patient, forcing the penalty killers to get out of position before making a play. The Rocket were all too willing to oblige in trying for man coverage, often jumping the gun on changing position, which allowed the Moose to score their second power play goal of the evening.   

Nathan Todd beat Lindgren cleanly on the glove side as the Moose waited out the penalty killers and opened up a perfect east-west passing lane. The Rocket regrouped and drove back toward Berdin; this time, it was Ylönen whose patience paid dividends. He took a feed from Veilleux – who had spent the entire night looking to end up on the scoresheet – and toe-dragged around a sprawling defender to fire off a wrister and net his first goal of the season. The Rocket fed off the energy created by Ylönen’s goal and seemed to be back in the game as they use a majority of the third period to push for the equalizer.   

The equalizing effort was halted when Lindgren was pulled from his net in favor of an extra attacker. Todd potted the insurance goal on a runaway puck that was chipped out of his defensive zone and into the neutral zone. Corey Schueneman made a desperate effort to get back on the puck, but he couldn’t get his stick in the way in time to prevent Todd from getting his shot off.   

The Moose won the game 4-2, their second straight win against the Rocket.   

The Rocket and the Moose square off for a third game on Friday, February 26 (7 pm EST) at the Bell Centre.   

Deanna McFeron covers the Laval Rocket for The Sin Bin and is also an AHL Editor. Follow or interact with her at @SinBinRocket

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    Deanna McFeron covers the Laval Rocket for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with her on Twitter @SinBinRocket.

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