Alex Belzile (Photo by Laval Rocket)

by Chris G, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

LAVAL, QC. — The Laval Rocket are coming off back-to-back games against the Manitoba Moose. On Thursday night, the Moose shut out the Rocket 4-0 and on Saturday night, Laval with a 6-5 shootout win over Manitoba in a high scoring game.

The Rocket will be at home this week as they host the Belleville Senators on Wednesday night and then the Cleveland Monsters are at Place Bell for back-to-back games starting on Friday night.

My top-5 Rocket takes of the week

Belzile at All-Star Game

Alex Belzile was named as Laval’s representative to the AHL All-Star Game that will take place in Springfield on January 27th and 28th. Belzile leads the Rocket with 29 points and 93 shots on goal. In my opinion, Belzile has been the most consistent forward since the start of the season.

“It’s an honour. I didn’t expect it at all,” said Belzile. Xavier Ouellet added, “He knows what it takes. He’s got a good attitude. He’s a positive guy.”

“He wants to understand the game and he’s passionate about his teammates making plays. He’s just a good hockey player,” said Joel Bouchard. The coach has confidence in Belzile and gives him time on the power play and penalty-kill units.

Schlemko in Laval

The Canadiens assigned David Schlemko to the Rocket last Tuesday after he cleared waivers. Schlemko travelled with the team to Winnipeg last week for the games against the Manitoba Moose. He was paired for most of the time with Maxim Lamarche and got ice time on the power-play.

Schlemko struggled at the start of Thursday’s game, but has been better since. I think he’s off to a good start with Laval, considering he hadn’t played a game since December 20th. He currently stands at minus-3 with one assist.

When Karl Alzner was recently sent to Laval, his attitude was exemplary. I don’t have the impression that Schlemko is in the same mindset that Alzner was. “I had a talk with Bergy (Marc Bergevin), but I’ll probably keep that between me and him,” said Schlemko in an interview with 91.9 FM Sports on Thursday.

Audette on fire

The hottest player for the Rocket right now is Daniel Audette. After being blanked on the scoresheet in his first nine games of the season, Audette has recorded 20 points in his last 25 games.

“The confidence is there obviously.[..] Just working on the little things in the d-zone and neutral zone, making sure spend less time in the d-zone,” said Audette on his recent play.

Earlier in the season, Audette was scratched as the coach wasn’t satisfied with his performance. “He listens, he has a great attitude, he’s accountable. […] He bought in to what we’re doing and now he’s getting the opportunity,” said Bouchard on how Audette has progressed during the season. The coach has rewarded him with a lot of ice-time including time on the power-play.

Noteworthy first-half players

Laval reached the midpoint of it’s season at the conclusion of Thursday’s game against Manitoba. My surprises in the first half have been Alex Belzile, Michael McCarron, and Jake Evans. 

My disappointments for the same period are Alexandre Grenier, and Hunter Shinkaruk. I was expecting the two veterans to score more than seven and five goals respectively.

“The bounces just weren’t going. I was hitting a lot of posts, missing a lot of chances,” said Grenier on his first half. Coach Bouchard was evidently not happy with Grenier on Saturday and kept him on the bench for most of the final two periods of the game.

Looking ahead

Laval is currently five points out of a playoff spot. A five-point gap doesn’t sound insurmountable, but the challenge is that there’s also three other teams fighting for the same spot.

The Rocket have collected 12 of the last 20 possible points and that’s the minimum pace that they have to maintain until the end of the season to have a chance to clinch a playoff spot. The Laval power-play will need to be better and they will need to improve their record on the road. They have won five out of the 16 away games this season, and 22 of the last 37 games will be away from Place Bell.

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