(Photo by Laval Rocket)

by Chris G, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

LAVAL, QC. —The Laval Rocket collected three of the possible four points against the Syracuse Crunch over the weekend, which included a 4 – 3 shootout loss on Friday night and a 4 – 0 win on Saturday afternoon.

The Rocket have an upcoming back-to-back weekend series against the Marlies on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Laval has won two of the three games between the teams this season.

Here are my top 5 takes of the week:

      1. Despres signing – Simon Despres recently signed an AHL contract with the Laval Rocket after declining the team’s original offer at the start of the season. Despres got a point in each of his first two games, including a game-winning goal in overtime against the Marlies. He hasn’t had much of an impact after that point and he sat out Saturday afternoon’s game against Syracuse, because he was under the weather and was banged up according to Joel Bouchard. Friday’s game against the Crunch was a game with quick pace, and Despres wasn’t able to keep up. In his first media scrum after joining the team, Despres mentioned that his goal is to play at the Spengler Cup, which runs from December 26th to 31st in Switzerland. I don’t know how Despres playing in the Spengler Cup would benefit the Laval Rocket. The ice time would benefit the organization as a whole if it were used for a prospect.
      2. Ouellet in AHL – After clearing waivers, Xavier Ouellet was assigned to the Laval Rocket by the Montreal Canadiens. In his first three games in Laval, Ouellet has had his ups and down moments. He has taken 13 shots on goal, and has been used on the power-play and on the penalty-kill. In a move that surprised me, Ouellet was given an alternate captain role. In the QMJHL as Bouchard coached Ouellet in Blainville-Boisbriand.
      3. McNiven getting a shot – With Charlie Lindgren sidelined due to a lower body injury since December 1st, Michael McNiven was given the starter role and he’s taking advantage of the opportunity with three good starts. “The more ice you get, the better you should be. [..] It is a bit of relief for myself,” said McNiven about feeling comfortable after his last start on Friday night. “We have the chance to have a lot of good goalies in the organization,” said Alex Belzile over the weekend and he’s right. McNiven was named the OHL goalie of the year in 2016-17, and is currently the fourth goalie in the Canadiens depth chart. With Carey Price being signed with the organization for many more years, and Charlie Lindgren currently third in the depth chart, McNiven’s future is not clear with the Canadiens.
      4. Special teams struggles – Laval’s special teams continue to struggle. On the power-play, they have a 12.2 percent success rate, which ranks them at the bottom of the league. If the Rocket’s power-play was at the league average of 19 percent, it would represent an extra eight goals scored. Laval has won 5 of the 14 one-goal games they have been part of this season, so eight goals could have represented some needed additional points in the standings. “Get pucks on net and get greasy goals,” said Victor Mete on how to improve the team’s power play. Over the weekend matchup against the Crunch, Syracuse wasn’t able to score on any of their seven power-plays. Crunch was ranked first with the extra attacker headed into the weekend. On November 6th, Laval was first in the league on the penalty-kill with 94 percent success. A little over a month later, Rocket is in the bottom third of the league with a 79.3 percent penalty kill. “Our penalty killing was good, then it got sloppy, then we readjust,” said Bouchard on Saturday about his team’s penalty kill. Both aspects of the special teams need to improve for the team to have more success.
      5. Playoff picture – Last season, the fourth place team in the North Division needed 88 points to make it into the playoffs. For the Rocket to reach that mark, they need to get the next 62 of the possible 94 points. To reach that target, at every three-game segment, Laval needs to get at least four of the possible six points. It will be tough for them to do for the remaining 47 games, and the divisional matchups will become more important as the season progresses.

This was the final 2018 edition of Take 5, I want to wish you happy holidays and I’ll bring you more of my Rocket takes in 2019.

Leave your comments below. I am looking forward to interacting with all of you.