Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Week in Review, Riley Barber and Phil Varone Traded, Jake Evans on a Roll, Karl Alzner Recalled, Matthew Peca Traded

(Photo by Laval Rocket)

ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Rocket started their three game home stand on Wednesday with a 5-4 shootout loss to the Moose. After overcoming a 2-0 deficit with three unanswered goals, Laval blew two leads in the third period to allow their opponents to collect two points. Charles Hudon scored his 100th career AHL goal in the third period.

“I think we showed a lot of character being down 2-0 and scoring four goals and coming back from this. As a coach, I gotta build on something. The attitude in the bench was outstanding. The guys were pushing in the same direction. Of course, they’re fragile. It’s not exactly everything that they want. But that’s adversity. That’s hockey,” Joel Bouchard said.

Laval snapped its six game losing streak on Friday by beating Manitoba by a score of 4-1. “I thought for 60 minutes for the most part we played a really good game. We played a really strong game. I think the attitude on this team’s been great the past few days to and that’s what helping us especially in the third period and so big relief for everyone to get that one,” said Jake Evans.

On Saturday, Yannick Veilleux scored the winning goal in the 2-1 victory against the Marlies. The game was played in front of a sold out crowd of 10,068 fans inside Place Bell. “They’re [fans] the best. It was a playoff atmosphere. So anytime you can pack a rink like that, it’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun, but to play against a rivalry like that it makes it even more special, more fun,” said Cayden Primeau following his 24 save performance.

Laval is currently sixth place in the North division three points out of a playoff spot. The Crunch, Devils, and Marlies are all currently fighting with the Rocket for fourth place of the division. Toronto has games in hand on all those teams.

The Rocket head on the road for five games. The trip begins on Wednesday against Belleville, a team that Laval has beat once in the seven games this season between the teams. The team then faces Rochester on Friday and then heads to Utica on Saturday.

Varone and Barber Traded 

On Thursday, the Canadiens traded Riley Barber and Phil Varone to the Penguins in return for Joseph Blandisi and Jacob Lucchini. There’s no doubt that this wasn’t a hockey trade. In terms of talent, the trade was won by the Penguins.

Barber was the Capitals’ sixth round draft pick, 167th overall, in 2012 and had played in the AHL for the Hershey Bears for the last four seasons. In 64 games played last season, he led his team with 31 goals and finished second on his team with 60 points. He added six points in nine games in the post season.

Barber had a slow start with Laval scoring once in the first 13 games of the season. Since November 22nd, he scored 12 goals in 26 games and added 13 assists. Barber was pointless in nine games in his stint with the Canadiens in December.

Varone joined the Canadiens last July after spending the last two seasons in the Flyers organization. In 2018-19, he scored three goals and added four assists in 47 games played with Philadelphia. He averaged 7:55 time on ice, while playing primarily on the fourth line.

Varone has consistently put up good offensive numbers in the AHL with a total of 396 career points in 488 regular season games heading into the season, and was named the AHL’s Most Valuable Player in 2017-18.

It took Varone 14 games before scoring his first of the season, and ended his stint in Laval with four goals and 10 assists in 27 games played. His season was shortened as he underwent surgery on his wrist that kept him out of action from October 31st to January 9th.

It was clear that something was brewing when both players were a healthy scratch in Providence, while the team is right in the middle of a playoff race. Bouchard said that he has his reasons to sit them, but didn’t want to discuss the matter in public.

“He didn’t have to I get it. It is what it is,” said Varone on Wednesday on how the decision was explained to him. “I’ve done well in this league. The track record speaks for itself. So haven’t lived up to it, I gotta be better.” The body language as he responded showed that he didn’t want to discuss the subject.

There were certainly several possible reasons that would lead to the situation not working out for both players. When Bouchard joined the organization for the start of the 2018-19 season, his only coaching experience was with players at the amateur level. The two assistant coaches that he added to his staff had no professional hockey coaching experience.

Leading professional hockey players requires a different approach. Bouchard often refers to players in the AHL as independent contractors. Players like Varone and Barber play with a team on a year-to-year basis. They need to get plenty of ice time and put up points on the board in order to help them get a bigger contract the following season.

Varone spent most of the season in the NHL last season with the Flyers. He may have had expectations or been promised an opportunity to play in Montreal this season, which didn’t seem like it was going to happen. His injury didn’t help the situation.

Varone and Barber were getting a lot of playing time during five-on-five and on the first power play unit. That changed when the Canadiens sent Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling to Laval earlier this month. The arrival of the two first-round draft picks pushed Varone to the bottom-six and bumped the veterans to the second power play unit.

These moves have a significant impact on veterans playing for a contract on a yearly basis. It is a situation that Bouchard hasn’t had to deal with during his coaching career.

Blandisi had six goals and eight assists in 26 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. In the games prior to the trade, he was playing center of the second line, and can also play on the wing. Blandisi’s Rocket debut was cut short as he left the game early in the first period due to injury, and no timeframe on his absence has been provided. Blandisi has also played 21 games in Pittsburgh this season scoring twice and adding three assists.

Lucchini had seven goals and eight assists in 53 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. In the games prior to the trade, he was playing on the wing of the second line. Bouchard used him on the fourth line in the first two games with the team and the coach was happy with his intensity and his play considering that he hadn’t practiced since joining Laval.

Evans on a Roll 

The Canadiens assigned Jake Evans last week to Laval once Paul Byron was ready to return to action. Evans left a positive impression in Montreal during his six game stint playing primarily on the fourth line with 9:40 average ice time.

His return to the AHL didn’t seem to have a negative affect. It looks like it’s had a positive effect as he has four points in three games since his return. Evans has been playing on the first line to the right of Hudon and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and on the first power play unit.

“When I got sent down, I made sure I wanted to come back here and help be a strong player and be that trusted player and contribute and help get these guys out of the funk, so that’s what I’m just trying to do,” Evans said on Friday.

With Nate Thompson and Nick Cousins traded on Monday, Evans was recalled by Montreal on Monday, and will likely remain with the team for the remainder of the season.

“I had a good first impression of him at training camp. I told the guys on the team and I thought this kid’s gonna be really good player, you could see it then. I think he should be up here, in my opinion. It was fun playing with him and I think he’s gonna be a heck of a player. I mean, I wouldn’t even limit him to a fourth line center,” Thompson said on Monday after being traded.

Alzner Recalled

Karl Alzner was recalled by the Canadiens following Friday’s game with the Moose and the entire team was happy for him. The players roared in the dressing room when the coach announced them the news. Alzner didn’t have much time to enjoy the moment with his teammates as he had to drive to Ottawa after the game.

“He’s been a real pro, and he’s been just a great leader for this team. Every day he comes to work, he has a smile on his face. He’s someone that especially the young guys, but even the older guys can definitely look up to and you know, I think he obviously doesn’t want to be in the AHL. He wasn’t planning on it. But he’s come this year and even last year with such a great attitude and just amazing guy,” said Evans.

“Very deserving, I mean he’s been awesome this year for the team, for me, for everyone. I mean, he’s a true professional and he’s been great to everyone, has been awesome to me and such a great guy. I’m very happy for him,” said Josh Brook.

“Just watching him in and out every day and how he handles himself, watching him play right beside him, seeing what he does in certain situations. It’s great to watch him and to play with him, talk to him whenever I need help with something, it’s awesome,” added Brook on how Alzner has impacted him.

“He wanted to be in the NHL but he’s been here and it’s been his team, he’s been taking care of everybody. He’s one of those guys where he can say ‘That’s not what I signed for’, but this is what it is now and dealing with it. He’s never come to the rink with a bad attitude. He’s never pout, he’s never been negative. He’s been a professional. I’ve told the young guys how lucky they are to have a guy like that,” added the coach.

Alzner would understandably have a lot of reasons to have a bad attitude in Laval. In the offseason, the Canadiens signed Ben Chiarot and in January, Marco Scandella was acquired via trade to play on left defence. He also saw his Rocket teammates Gustav OlofssonOtto Leskinen, and Xavier Ouellet get an opportunity before him.

“I didn’t expect it at all, but at the same time happy to get back, it’s been pretty much a year since I’ve got a NHL game in so I’m happy about it just to be around the rink and see the guys and energy seems to be good, so it’ll be fun,” Alzner said in Ottawa prior to puck drop. Alzner played 16:04 on Saturday and went plus-1 playing on the third pairing with Christian Folin.

Peca Traded

The Canadiens traded Matthew Peca on Monday to the Senators for Aaron Luchuk and a seventh-round draft pick in this year’s draft. Marc Bergevin said on Monday that the trade was made to add a draft pick since they weren’t going to re-sign Peca for next season.

Peca had a disappointing season with the Rocket scoring four goals and adding nine assists in 34 games despite receiving a lot of ice time including on the power play. He’s currently on a sequence where he has scored once in the last 18 games.

Peca played five games with the Canadiens before suffering a knee injury that forced him out of action for five weeks.

Luchuk was part of the Senators organization for five days after being acquired from the Maple Leafs on February 19th. He’s been left off the scoresheet in all four AHL games that he’s played this season. In 45 games for the Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL this season, Luchuk has scored 19 goals, and added 31 assists.

By Chris G., Senior Writer.
All Habs Hockey Magazine
Copyright © 2019 Rocket Sports

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