Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Connor LaCouvee Enjoys Hockey, David Sklenicka’s Progression, Effort Level, Jake Evans on a Roll, Goaltender Interference

David Sklenicka (Photo by Amy Johnson | © Rocket Sports Media) Unauthorized use prohibited.

by Chris G, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Rocket collected eight of the possible 12 points since the last column, and are currently six points out of a playoff spot with nine games remaining in the regular season.

Last week, Laval beat Providence 3-2 in shootout at Place Bell on Wednesday, and then over the weekend headed on the road for a pair of games, losing 2-1 in shootout against Utica on Friday and a 3-2 win in overtime against Springfield on Saturday.

This week, Laval hosts Binghamton at Place Bell before heading on the road to face Rochester on Friday and Toronto on Saturday.

My top-5 Rocket takes of the week

LaCouvee Recalled

Following Charlie Lindgren‘s recall by the Canadiens on March 11th, the Rocket recalled Connor LaCouvee from Maine in the ECHL. In his three starts since his return with Laval, LaCouvee has 2-0-1 record with a .945 save percentage.

“He’s a hockey player. He loves to play in goal. If you paid him to play in a beer league over the summer, he would go. He would go play ball hockey the same night. You call him, he puts his hockey bag in the car and goes to play,” said Joel Bouchard following the game against the Bruins.

In his nine total games with Laval this season, LaCouvee has 6-1-2 record, 1.83 goals against average, and a .933 save percentage. Those are impressive numbers, especially for a goalie who had only played three AHL games before joining the Rocket. Earlier this season, LaCouvee had a 0-1-0 record in three games for the Utica Comets with a 2.87 goals against average, and a .877 save percentage.

I was expecting Michael McNiven to get the majority starts while Lindgren is in Montreal, but the six starts have been evenly split between him and LaCouvee.

I’m not expecting Lindgren to be back in Laval next season as I think he will either be Carey Price‘s backup in Montreal or he will be with another organization. That would give McNiven the number one role with the Rocket and a vacancy for the backup role.

Is LaCouvee currently auditioning for that role? If that is the case, shouldn’t McNiven be given the majority of the starts as part of his development?

Sklenicka’s Progression

On May 28 2018, the Canadiens announced that they agreed to a two-year contract with 21-year old Czech defenceman David Sklenicka.

Fast forward 67 games and Sklenicka is the defenceman who has progressed the most this season for the Rocket. It took him time at the beginning of the season to adapt to North American hockey, but the more he’s playing, the better he looks. Since the mid-point of the season, we have seen Sklenicka deliver hard body checks to his opponents.

“He’s probably the guy that’s progressed the most all year,” said Bouchard last week. “The guy comes from Europe, he doesn’t speak English, never played in North America, never was on small ice.[..] The guy has passion, he has heart, he works.[..] He’s a competitor and I don’t think any team wants to play against him cause he’s so physical.[..] His progression in six months is pretty impressive.”

Sklenicka is primarily used on the third pairing with Maxim Lamarche, and is used on the second penalty kill unit.

Effort Level

The Rocket’s last five games have ended in shootout or overtime. Laval has won three games during the sequence, with four of those games ending in shootout. It’s rare to see this kind of streak in professional hockey.

Another number that stands out during this sequence is that Laval has allowed the first goal in all of those games except one. It’s also impressive that the Rocket won three of the games where their opponent scored first.

This season, Bouchard’s team hasn’t won as many games as they wanted. They don’t have dangerous offensive threats on their roster, and their lineup has several rookies in their lineup. Even with those factors, the team has consistently worked hard throughout the season.

“They’re unreal, they’ve had so much adversity this year and they never quit,” said Bouchard last week. “We’re a team that works hard and sticks to the game plan no matter what the score is,” added Daniel Audette. “We believe in the system, and the coaches have been preaching it all season,” mentioned Ryan Culkin. 

Evans on a Roll

Since Michael McCarron‘s season ending injury in January, Jake Evans has been slotted as the team’s number one centre. When Michael Chaput and Byron Froese, Evans role on the special teams has also increased. He’s now playing on the top unit on the power play and the penalty kill.

Currently, Evans has gotten at least one point in nine of the last 11 games. During that stretch, he has scored three goals and added nine assists. Evans is second on the team with 13 goals and 42 points behind Alex Belzile. 

Goaltender Interference

There were two plays that went against the Rocket recently, both involving goaltender interference. The first play was on March 13th, when a non-call for goalie interference which gave Syracuse a 1-0 lead. Three days later in Belleville, a Laval goal was disallowed as the referees ruled there was goalie interference.

Speaking after the Belleville game, Laval head coach Joel Bouchard had a different opinion. “There’s no doubt that the goal was good. Their explanation was like they saw a completely different play,” Bouchard told 91.9 Sports.

Due to the lack of technology in every arena, goalie interference is not eligible to be challenged by coaches in the AHL.

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