Laval Rocket playoff primer: A guide to the postseason
An overview of the Rocket’s season to date
MONTREAL – Buckle up because the race to the finish line is on for the Laval Rocket.
The Canadiens’ affiliate is looking to etch the letter ‘X’ into their name in the American Hockey League standings but they’ve got their work cut out for them if they hope to reserve their spot in the playoffs.
As of March 30, Jean-François Houle’s squad is on the outside-looking-in in the AHL playoff picture, with only one point separating them from a postseason berth and a premature ending to their season. But as so often has been the case this season, seeding can change overnight and until that coveted ‘X’ is beside a team’s name, no one is safe.
If you’re wondering how they’ve gotten to this point, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a look into the Rocket’s season to date, what remains of this year, players to watch for and the AHL playoff format.
Playoff hockey has yet to begin this season but for the Rocket, it feels as if it never ended dating back to last year’s memorable run in the postseason.
A sloppy start to the season caused the Rocket to fall behind the eight ball early in the year, forcing them to play catch up for the balance of the campaign.
Ultimately, they were able to find their rhythm and put themselves in a position to qualify for the playoffs as the regular season dwindles down to its final weeks. They currently occupy the 6th spot in the North Division with a 27-28-7-3 record.
“We’re starting to find our game a little bit more; we’re playing more complete games, I think, and I think we’re playing more consistently, that’s the biggest thing. Throughout the season it’s been kind of up-and-down, but I think now it’s been trending in the right direction a little more than it has,” said defenseman Corey Schueneman. “We know what’s at stake, we know how important this stretch is and I think we’re going to put our best foot forward.”
Here’s a month-by-month breakdown:
- October: In the opening month of the 2022-23 campaign, Laval owned a 2-5-1-0 record, finding themselves near the basement in the North Division standings.
- November: Houle’s contingent steadied the ship, where they skated to a 5-6-2-0 record.
- December and January: The neighboring months were the turning point for the Rocket. Combined, Laval totaled 11 wins compared to only seven losses in regulation, while dropping an additional five via overtime or the shootout.
- February: It was a hot-and-cold period for Laval, who won three of the first four games to start the month before losing four of five in the second half of the 28-day term. At the end of the month, they were 21-22-7-2 on the season.
- March: To date, the Rocket are playing near .500 hockey with a 6-6-1 record.
ALL TO PLAY FOR IN APRIL
The good news for the Rocket is a playoff spot is very much in reach. The bad news is they do not control their own destiny.
Of the seven games left to be played, four will be contested at Place Bell – including the final three games of the schedule – where the Rocket are 15-9-5-3 this season. That leaves a trio of road games left for Laval, who are 12-19-2-0 outside of Quebec this year.
Right now, the most important game for the Rocket is the next one, but it’s hard not to look ahead to the game on April 7 against Cleveland. While every game counts – or every point, for that matter – the matchup on home ice against the Monsters is a duel that has all the potential of being the deciding factor for the final playoff spot in the North.
PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR
Laval has felt the domino effect of the injury bug that has haunted Montreal all season long. Consequently, the Rocket have been forced to use a wide range of personnel to help fill voids of players who have been called up to the NHL.
Nonetheless, there have been some mainstays in the lineup who have shone this season, like Joël Teasdale. The forward is one of only two 20+ goal scorers on the team, with 23 tallies on the season, to go with 14 helpers. The QMJHL graduate has been particularly hot in the second half of the season. Since January 20, Teasdale has found twine 16 times in just 26 games.
Leading scorer Anthony Richard has also been tremendous for his AHL squad. The 26-year-old forward, who joined the Canadiens for two separate stints this season, is relishing a breakout season in the AHL. Richard’s blistering speed makes him a threat every time he is on the ice, and his 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) are proof.
On the blueline, William Trudeau has fit in nicely with Laval. In his rookie campaign, the 20-year-old has recorded 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 53 games. Nicolas Beaudin, who is currently sidelined with an injury, has also transitioned smoothly into the Rocket lineup since being acquired by the Rockford IceHogs. The former first-round pick has posted 2-19-21 totals in 37 games played this season.
Between the pipes, Cayden Primeau has carried much of the load since returning from a six-week absence due to injury. In his last seven games, the American netminder boasts a .929 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average.
Other notables include newcomers Jayden Struble and Emil Heineman, who recently joined the team following seasons in the NCAA and SHL, respectively. The pair provide depth for the Rocket on both the backend, as well as up front. Since arriving overseas, Heineman has scored four goals in four games. Not a bad start, eh?
Pierrick Dubé has also provided an offensive spark to the Rocket lineup since joining the team full-time in mid-December. A native of Lyon, France, the undrafted forward has scored 11 goals and tallied 16 assists in 37 games dawning the ‘R’ this season and is averaging over a point per game in his last 19 outings.
What’s more, Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylonen‘s services are available to the Rocket at any time for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, should the organization head in that direction. Harvey-Pinard has 25 points (15 goals, 10 assists) in 35 games with Laval this season, while Ylönen has 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) at the AHL level in 2022-23.
AHL PLAYOFF FORMAT
The AHL playoff format does not follow that of the NHL.
For what’s relevant to the Rocket’s potential playoff scenario, the postseason goes as follows:
- First round: Best-of-3 between the 4 and 5 seeds in the North Division.
- Division Semifinals: Best-of-5 between the winner of the first-round matchup (4 vs 5 seeds) and the 1 seed in the North Division; best-of-5 between the 2 and 3 seeds in the North Division.
- Division Finals: Best-of-5 between the winner of the 4/5 vs 1 seed matchup and the winner of the 2 vs 3 seed matchup.
- Conference Finals: Best-of-5 between the winner of the North Division and the winner of the Atlantic Division.
- Calder Cup Finals: Best-of-7 between the winner of the Eastern Conference and the winner of the Western Conference.
All stats are as of March 30 inclusive.