The Roughnecks are 0-2. But it’s hardly time to hit the panic button in Calgary. They’ve lost to two very good teams in Toronto and Colorado, the first by only a pair of goals and the last defeat in overtime. They haven’t been blown out and, hey, it’s early in the season. Besides, in a league where eight of nine teams make the playoffs there’s room for some tough losses. Perhaps some regular-season adversity will be good for the Riggers anyway. They finished No.-1 in the league the last two seasons with records of 11-6 in 2011 and 12-4 in 2012. Just so happens they are 0-2 over that time when it comes to winning a Champion’s Cup, never reaching the title tilt in either year. Still, when it comes to analyzing the losses, the biggest culprit for the defeats has been the club’s offence.
Expected to be the team’s strongest attribute again this year, their forwards have struggled to put the ball in the net 5-on-5 and — to a lesser extent — on the powerplay. Shawn Evans has been the best Roughneck in the O end, scoring seven goals on 22 shots. Dane Dobbie missed the first game with a suspension and is still nursing a neck injury, understandably struggling in his return to the lineup against Colorado. Daryl Veltman sat out the game against the Mammoth with a groin injury.
So, those two guys get a pass.
However, the numbers tell the tale for the rest of the Riggers’ big guns:
• Jeff Shattler three goals on 20 shots
• Curtis Dickson three goals on 18 shots
• Scott Ranger one goal on 11 shots
The Roughnecks have averaged just 11.5 goals in their two games, dead last in the West (Washington leads with 13.3) and the third least in the league behind only Philly (10.5) and Toronto (10).
“It’s been a little frustrating,” said Evans. “But we’ve had our fair share of chances to capitalize on. The ball hasn’t been finding the net in those key opportunities we’re getting and we end up losing the game by a goal. In the long run, if we score on those opportunities it could be the difference between winning and losing.”
Leading 12-8 against the Mammoth, Calgary had plenty of chances to put it away as Colorado rallied. With both Mammoth ’tenders hurt at different points of the game and rotating in and out of the net and John Grant Jr. the only hot forward for the visitors, the Riggers seemingly had the advantage.
Instead Colorado scored five straight — including the OT winner.
In the first game against Toronto, Calgary’s forwards compounded the problem by not only failing to score enough, but getting caught on slow changes that gave the Rock easy goals in transition.
“In that first game, our offence pretty much gave them the game by giving them four goals in the first half by letting them get breakaways because we were too lazy getting off,” said Evans. “Our main concern after watching video was making sure we got off so our defence could get on.”
Against Colorado, the offence was much better with forwards hustling back on D when needed if they were caught out instead of giving odd-man advantages. Of course, it isn’t just the offence to blame in the two losses. The defence has been suspect at times — John Grant Jr. was left alone waaaaaay too many times in the loss to Colorado — and the penalty kill has been terrible. The club’s transition game — outside of Geoff Snider — has been largely nonexistent. Goaltending is really the only area beyond reproach, with Mike Poulin playing solid so far this season.
That said, it’s clear if the offence was on point, the club could be sitting different in the standings.
“We didn’t get off to a good start … but we just have to keep working on it,” said Evans. “We could be 1-1 but we’re 0-2,” said Evans. “We’ve dug ourselves a little bit of a hole and I think our offence and our team will pick it up and bail us out of this.”
With the retirement of Kaleb Toth and trade of Cory Conway and the additions of Joe Resetarits and Aaron Pascas, among others, there’s no doubt some time to adjust could be expected for the offence. That said, in a 16-game season you can’t spin your wheels for too long.
“We’re still trying to feel each other out,” said Evans. “There’s some new bodies out there and with the changes from guys leaving, it’s different. We’re still trying to build chemistry. We hope Daryl gets healthy and Dobbie gets back to 100 percent. I think once that happens we’ll be a tough offence to stop.”
The award for most underwhelming goal celebrations has to go to John Grant Jr. Sure his team was losing, but after every one of the six goals he scored, he simply hung his head, turned around and walked to the bench. Heard many comments from fans on how odd that was, including one youngster who said to his dad ‘looks like he doesn’t even want to be here’ … Exact opposite of Junior: Fellow Peterborough boy Shawn Evans, who is — how shall we say — very animated and excited after each ball he puts in the net. “I like when we score and good things happen,” said Evans laughing. “Maybe (Junior’s) just used to scoring so many goals.” … Nolan Heavenor is a name you don’t hear a lot — and that’s a good thing. The NLL journeyman goes about his job quietly but is one of the most effective NLLers out there. He can play every position on the floor if needed, including taking face-offs … Weird to watch a Roughnecks/Mammoth game without seeing Gavin Prout and Andrew McBride getting into either a chirping or shoving match … When I glanced up at a TV in the Saddledome to see the Toronto and Philly game sitting 5-3 late in the tilt, thought I was watching a Leafs and Flyers game for a second … The Bandits are certainly showing a ton of perseverance this season — and giving their fans some serious ‘edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting’ finishes … Speaking of the Bandits, great off-season pickup of Shawn Williams. The lefty is leading the team in scoring with four goals and 15 points … If the NLL was handing out the league MVP award right now, it would go to Brandon Miller, hands down. The Wings are 2-0 thanks to his 7.5 goals-against-average. That’s a better number than some NHL goalies had in the ’80s! Or Corey Schneider right now … Gotta love scheduling in the NLL. After Saturday night’s loss, the Roughnecks don’t play at home again until Feb. 9. Sure is tough to keep any momentum and build up a fan base with such a long gap between home tilts … Mark Matthews is living up to the hype and clearly out front in rookie of the year consideration. More important to the Rush, though, he’s putting up the type of points they need to win.
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