Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Ryan Poehling Shining, Michael McCarron Returns, Riley Barber and Phil Varone Not Producing
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — After starting the season with three consecutive losses for the first time in their short history, the Rocket won three of their last four games.
On Canadian Thanksgiving, Laval visited Rockford and won their first game of the season by a score of 3-1. Cayden Primeau made 21 saves to earn his first professional win.
On Wednesday, the Rocket returned home and beat the Providence Bruins 5-4 in a shootout for their first home win of the season. The Rocket didn’t make things simple for them during that game. The Bruins tied the game at four with 18 seconds remaining in the third period after Laval took a 4-0 lead in the first period.
“I see a lot of good teaching, I was very happy the way the guys came out, they respected the game plan, they really came like freight train. I think the guys towards the end were mentally tired and physically,” said Joel Bouchard following the game. “I think we just lifted the foot off the pedal a little bit. And then when we try to kick it more into high gear, then we took it on the chin, and we were scrambling to cling on.”
On Friday, Laval blew another multiple goal lead against Providence as the Bruins erased an early 2-0 Rocket lead until Ryan Poehling scored the winning goal in the third period.
On Saturday, the Rocket blew two one goal leads (trend?) against Hershey and ended up losing 4-2 against the Bears. That loss snapped Laval’s three game win streak.
This week, the Rocket head on the road for three games. It begins on Wednesday night as Laval faces Belleville for the first time this season. These two teams will get to know each other really well as they will play each other 12 times this season. Noah Juulsen is expected to make his season debut after a long absence.
On Friday, Laval will visit Hartford and then head to Providence on Saturday to face the Bruins.
After the first home stand of the season, the coach called out his players by saying that half of them had their head elsewhere. He didn’t name any of the players but he did specify at the time that those that were with Laval last season were playing well.
It was clear that one of the players he was pointing his finger was Poehling. When he was assigned to Laval, the Canadiens prospect had expressed his disappointment that he didn’t start the season in Montreal. A temporary assignment according to Marc Bergevin.
His disappointment carried over to his play. It’s understandable considering the circumstances. Poehling made a remarkable NHL debut scoring a hat trick and the shootout winner in a game against the Maple Leafs, stood out at development camp, played well at the rookie showdown tournament and had a good training camp.
Poehling played the first three games of the season on the second and third lines. His wingers for the three games were Matthew Peca and Dale Weise in the first game versus Cleveland, Nikita Jevpalovs and Riley Barber in the second game versus Cleveland, and Phil Varone and Barber against Milwaukee. Poehling finished that sequence with no points and minus-4.
For the game against Rockford, Bouchard moved Poehling up to play in the middle of Belzile and Charles Hudon. That line has clicked and Poehling has been dominant since joining that trio. The coach has kept that line intact for the last four games and been giving them the most ice time including on the power play.
Poehling currently on a four game point streak with his two goals and two assists during that stretch. The game winning goal that he scored on Wednesday night was a tremendous individual effort as he stole the puck from the defender, skated into the offensive zone and scored with a hard shot.
“Ryan is a good setup man. He’s a big boy for his age. I think he plays more mature than he looks,” said Belzile after Saturday’s game. “Since two weeks ago, the first day he came here, I think he’s improved already about little details like stick work, like puck management.”
“There’s not much else you can say other than he’s a great player, very skilled and he’s a goalscorer. He scores goals at big times,” added his former USA Hockey and current teammate Cayden Primeau.
McCarron Returns to Action
Michael McCarron made his season debut on Wednesday night after suffering a groin injury during training camp. It was his first game since December 29th, as he had suffered a season ending shoulder injury on January 1st during practice.
He was on the centre of the fourth line with Weise to his right and Michael Pezzetta to his left on Friday and Alexandre Alain on Friday and Saturday. McCarron even dropped the gloves in his first game.
“I don’t think I played that well tonight. I mean, I haven’t played in a while. I didn’t get a lot of touches out there tonight,” said McCarron following Wednesday’s game. It was a gradual return for McCarron over the weekend as he needed to shake off the rust after missing over nine months.
“I like him. I think Mac (Michael McCarron) was a tough game for him,” added the coach on Wednesday. “He hasn’t played since December, you got to sympathize with that.”
“He’s a really good guy in the room, on the ice. I think he’s a big body, he’s making space for me and Weise and on the forecheck, I think he’s really good. I think he improved and today he was happier about our game too. I think he’s going to be even better, it’s normal after 10 months, he’s sometimes a bit rusty, but he’s a really good player,” said Alain on Sunday.
McCarron was named an alternate captain as the five year veteran will be expected to mentor the younger players of the team.
Barber and Varone Not Producing
Riley Barber was acquired during the off-season to help with the team’s scoring. He has scored one goal in the seven games, which is way below the pace that he has maintained throughout his career. Last season, Barber scored 31 times in 64 games with the Hershey Bears.
“Riley is a scorer, he wants to score goals. Scoring goals is the best asset that a player can have. I have no problem with that, in fact he’s one of the players with the most ice time since the start of the season,” said the coach following Saturday’s game.
Phil Varone is another veteran that was added in the off-season to help with Laval’s offence. Varone currently has one point in seven games, a disappointing number. In the last two seasons, he averaged 1.02 points per game in the AHL.
Barber and Varone have played on the same line in six of the seven games. In the third period of Saturday’s game, Bouchard shuffled the lines because he wasn’t happy by some of the combinations. The result of the line juggling ended up separating Barber and Varone. I think that this was the targeted combination by the coach in hopes to ignite offensive production from the duo.
The plus-minus category isn’t the best one to evaluate players, but in certain situations, I think that it can give you an idea on the contribution of a player. Through seven games, Barber is at minus seven and Varone is at minus five.