(Laval) The Laval Rocket is experiencing its best moments of the season and is preparing to begin a segment of its calendar which, at first glance, seems favorable to it. But like any self-respecting head coach, Jean-François Houle intends to move forward by attacking one step at a time.
The Laval team will return to Place Bell on Wednesday evening to face the Utica Comets, the same team against which the Rocket scored, in hostile territory, 4-3 victories, both in shootouts, on Friday and last Sunday.
“These are two big games that we won against Utica and here we come back home against the same team. It’s never easy to play three games in a row against a sectional rival,” Houle first noted after his players’ training session Tuesday morning.
“It’s been several defeats that (the Comets) have suffered, and it’s certain that they will show up in our building and try to snatch points from us,” added Houle.
The two teams will take to the ice in opposite circumstances. The Rocket have won their last four meetings and eight of their last 10 outings. Meanwhile, the Comets have lost their last eight games (0-5-3) and haven’t won since December 10.
This combination allowed the Rocket (13-14-5 -31 points) to cede the lead in the American League North section standings to the Comets (10-13-6 -26 points), who however have three games in the bank on the Laval troupe.
Furthermore, if the Rocket wins on Wednesday evening, it will have as many victories as defeats for the first time since the season started.
At first glance, this may seem like a trivial fact. But with its group of young players, several injuries to key players, the recalls made by the Habs and above all, an ugly streak of nine defeats from November 17 to December 8, we can safely say that the Rocket is coming back from far.
“In a hockey season, you have ups, you have downs, and we always knew not to look too far ahead. We take it day by day, game by game,” Houle recalled.
“For us, the priority,” he continued, “is that our young players continue to develop well and I think we are on the right track. We see a clear improvement, from the start of the year, in our structure and in the way our young people develop. For us, it is to continue in this vein, and we hope that the victories will come by doing that. »
If Houle gives the impression of not getting too carried away during the good times that his players are experiencing, it is because he and his assistants did not panic either during the team’s low point in November and at beginning of December.
“We stayed down to earth. We know that in a season, you are never as bad as you think and you are never as good as you think. So you stay in the business,” Houle mentioned.
“We knew that we had several new players and several young people who had never played (among the) professionals. We knew it was going to take time. We said publicly that it would not be easy at the start of the year. We are happy to see good progress, but we must continue. I hope the injured won’t spoil it. I hope we have enough depth to continue on a good path. »
Houle listed a list of factors to explain his troupe’s recent success.
“Our goalies made the key saves, and that allowed us to stay in the game and maybe find a way to win. Defensively, we play much better. Our defensive structure is better and our young players are gaining ground. When you have a team that has 15, 16, 17 new players and several young players, it’s not easy. The team spirit is there now, and the players are playing better together and on the ice. All this put together helps. »
Furthermore, Houle also wants to see a group of more disciplined players on the ice. With 553 penalty minutes, the Rocket ranks second in the American League in time spent in the penalty box, trailing only the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (566).
“In the last two games, we took too many penalties. I think our players know that. We were lucky. It hurt us, but we still managed to win. We have to play in a more disciplined way. We have to continue to play well defensively, not give too many shots to the other team,” listed the Rocket head coach.
After the Comets visit, the Rocket will host the Manitoba Moose, another team languishing in the bottom of the section with 24 points in 29 games, in two games in as many days, Friday and Saturday.
In fact, between now and the All-Star break on Feb. 4-5 in San Jose, the Rocket will play eight of their next 11 games at home. Nine of these meetings, moreover, will pit the Rocket against section rivals.
“We really stay one game at a time, but it’s certain that all these games against teams from our section and in front of our fans are very important,” admitted Houle.
“It’s always good to go into the All-Star break in position to make the playoffs, or very close to it. »
The Rocket will be without three regular players on Wednesday night, namely Gabriel Bourque, Sean Farrell and Brady Keeper. The duration of their absence remains undetermined, but should be clarified on Wednesday, after a more complete assessment by doctors.
In the meantime, the Rocket recalled forwards Alex-Olivier Voyer and Jakov Novak from the Trois-Rivières Lions.