(Laval) No one was complaining in the Laval Rocket locker room at the idea of taking advantage of five days off before taking charge again next Thursday in Belleville. And this, even if the team is experiencing its best moments of the season.
Powered by its defenders and its best performance of the season on the power play, the Rocket gave themselves – and their fans – a great Christmas present by defeating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by a score of 5 -2, Friday evening at Place Bell.
“It’s good to win the last game like that. It’s easier to go on a short break of three or four days, to have your head free for a little bit,” noted head coach Jean-François Houle.
“I think it was a good game for us tonight. For 60 minutes, it was the strongest match we played all year,” he continued.
The Rocket signed a fourth victory in its last five outings, against difficult rivals.
The Penguins came to Laval with a four-game winning streak. On Wednesday, Jean-François Houle’s men overthrew the Syracuse Crunch in its castle.
Friday, the Laval team took control of the match in the second half of the second period thanks to three quick goals scored with a man advantage.
Defenders Logan Mailloux (5th) and Arber Xhekaj (1st) scored two of these goals. The other was the work of center Brandon Gignac (10th), who deflected a quality pass from Mailloux.
William Trudeau (3rd) set the tone for this explosion of defenders, early in the second period, by thwarting Magnus Hellberg, who faced 38 shots.
“They have good shots, they attack,” Houle said of his defenders.
“It’s a combination of several things, but our defensemen are playing very good hockey in the last five games,” admitted Houle.
Sean Farrell (5th), in the third period, also found the back of the net.
Philippe Maillet had a solid game, with three assists, and Gignac also had an assist to extend his streak of games with at least one point to eight.
At the other end of the ice, goaltender Jakub Dobes offered another reassuring performance, even if he was little called upon.
He blocked 24 pucks and only conceded to Alex Nylander in the second period and Dmitri Samorukov in the third.
This is not always the case, but on Friday evening, the figures displayed on the central scoreboard were intended to reflect the first period; a fairly shared game, slightly dominated by the Rocket players and two goalkeepers who were in no way generous, despite the Christmas atmosphere which reigned all evening at Place Bell.
The Penguins, who had played 24 hours earlier in Belleville, were the first to threaten the rival fortress. However, Dobes was solid against Marc Johnstone then against Joona Koppanen.
At the other end of the ice, Hellberg made his best saves of the opening on consecutive shots from Joshua Roy and Gignac.
The first 10 minutes of the second period was a lot like the first half except this time there were goals.
The first came from Trudeau, who deflected a Jan Mysak pass at 3:19.
After Nylander tied the score by deflecting a Ty Smith shot, the Penguins suddenly became undisciplined.
They took three penalties in a span of just over three minutes, and the Rocket took advantage of them all in even less time.
Mailloux first broke the tie with a cannonball that beat the Penguins goalie in the upper right at 13:53.
Less than two minutes later, Xhekaj imitated his teammate with a less powerful shot, but just as precise. Gignac completed the backfire at 16:50.
“That’s exactly the spot I was aiming for,” said Mailloux, sitting next to Xhekaj in the locker room, talking about his shot.
It was the first time this season that the Rocket scored at least three power play goals in a game.
“There have been a lot of changes to the advantage this year. It’s obviously nice when we’re able to make our five-man attack work. We’re going to have to make sure, when we come back from the break, that it continues in this direction,” noted Mailloux.
Farrell’s goal early in the third period put the game beyond the visitors’ reach once and for all.