(Montreal) The Laval Rocket’s season changed in the blink of an eye and it’s largely due to the change in mentality in the three zones.
The recipes for success are usually simple in hockey. One is simply that hard work accompanies talent. In recent weeks, the Laval team has placed emphasis on this.
After winning only five of their first 22 games of the season, the Rocket went 10-2-1 in their last 13 outings to enter the thick of the playoff race.
Physical play in front of the net and along the boards, particularly to win battles for the puck, proved to be the key for Jean-François Houle’s men. And the most interesting thing for the head coach is that the smaller players have started to give as much as the larger players when it comes to working in the back of the zone and in the crease.
“That’s where we had a big improvement in our team,” noted Houle. We’re winning a lot more battles and positioning ourselves a little better to make better passes with cohesion. Even the smallest players win their battles. This is the identity we want and this is what we have shown for two or three weeks. »
It may just be a coincidence, but the Rocket has been on a roll since defenseman Arber Xhekaj was demoted to the American League. The man nicknamed “The Sheriff” wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves and play physical in the NHL and his intensity may have influenced other players.
The return from injury of the captain, Gabriel Bourque, should not be neglected either. The 413-game NHL veteran is known for applying details, playing with intensity and bringing energy to the ice.
Bourque has only two points in his last 11 games, but his line has often set the tone for the Rocket with convincing presences in enemy territory.
“Gab is a great leader. A guy like that who has played over 400 games in the NHL seems like a lot in the locker room. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our successes have started again since his return to the game,” said forward Philippe Maillet.
And defensively, it’s not just Xhekaj who can let his fists and shoulders do the talking. Tobie Bisson is perhaps having his best moments of the season and he was able to wake up the crowd at Place Bell a few times in recent matches.
Bisson did not hesitate to deliver violent checks at the start of the game to immediately establish the rhythm. In his territory, the 26-year-old defender’s ability to recover pucks and stability have made him one of the Rocket’s important cogs.
“Tobie wins his battles and is a leader. He does a lot of good things on the ice. He doesn’t have the fame of Xhekaj or [Logan] Mailloux, but for our team he is very important. He gives us very good minutes. He was with us two years ago and when we lost him last year, it hurt us a lot,” underlined Houle.
The Montreal Canadiens’ farm club also added the imposing six-foot-three, 203-pound forward Filip Cederqvist to its ranks on Thursday. The 23-year-old Swede felt comfortable in his first game with his new team on Saturday in a 4-1 victory over the Manitoba Moose.
Cederqvist, who was paired with Bourque and Lucas Condotta, was effective in protecting the puck near the net and used his frame to give his opponents trouble along the boards.
“He was physical. He protected the puck and was good along the boards. This trio was excellent and spent good minutes in the opposing territory. Hockey isn’t always about scoring goals. It’s about passing time or being physical. This trio did a very good job [Saturday],” Houle analyzed.
It will only remain to be seen if these physical surges will not further undermine the Laval team, which is already deprived of a few players due to injury.