LAVAL (December 12, 2018) – Michael McNiven stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced against the divisional rival Belleville Senators in the Rocket’s 3-1 win at Place Bell on Wednesday night, earning him the first star honours. Alexandre Grenier picked up two points while Hunter Shinkaruk scored his third of the season.
The veteran defensemen in the Rocket’s lineup made their presence known in the first period as seven of Laval’s nine shots came off of their sticks, with Maxim Lamarche firing three of those himself in the opening 20 minutes. A goaltending duel between Belleville’s Marcus Hogberg and McNiven meant that none of those pucks crossed the goal line however, keeping the score locked at zero after one.
A spin-o-rama allowed Nikita Jevpalovs to put the Rocket ahead by one a little more than halfway through the second period as he used the move to cut in front of the net and fire the puck in the far side of the goal, beating Hogberg for his fifth tally of the season. Though the defense continued their offensive work in the period with Xavier Ouellet sending three shots on net and with Victor Mete picking up an assist on the Rocket goal, they also kept the Senators far away from McNiven, who only had to make three saves in the period.
Despite the little action he faced in the second, McNiven gave his team the momentum they needed to go ahead by two early in the second as shortly after his breakaway save against Tobias Lindberg, Shinkaruk used a Belleville defender as a screen to beat Hogberg for his third of the season. Shinkaruk’s goal would go on to hold as the game-winner since the Senators broke McNiven’s shutout with Hogberg on the bench, but their one-goal deficit quickly became two once again when Alexandre Grenier scored in the empty Belleville net.
“For sure [the shutout] was on my mind,” explained McNiven after the game. “But I just wanted to give my team an opportunity to win, and I feel like I did that today.”
Joël Bouchard also believed that his goaltender accomplished this task. “He was good today, he wasn’t lucky on the goal since the puck deflected,” he explained. “When he was solicited, he was calm and he brought confidence to the team.”
LAV: Jevpalovs (Mete)|Shinkaruk (Grenier)|Grenier
BEL: Englund (Wolanin)
Goaltenders: LAV: McNiven (18/19) | BEL: Hogberg (21/24)
Rocket Powerplay: 0/4 | Rocket Penalty Kill: 3/3
Three Stars: 1. Michael McNiven – LAV | 2. Nikita Jevpalovs – LAV | 3. Hunter Shinkaruk – LAV