NLL Team Reports for Week 6: ‘If the chances were not there for us, we’d be worried.’ – Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen

Garrett Billings and the Rock could be 6-1 for the first time since 2010 with a win this weekend. (Photo: Ward Laforme Jr.)
Garrett Billings and the Rock could be 6-1 for the first time since 2010 with a win this weekend. (Photo: Ward Laforme Jr.)

The way it’s shaping up in the National Lacrosse League, things could be going in opposite directions in each of the league’s divisions. In the East, the Toronto Rock could very well be 6-1 and in firm control of the division race. Out West, it’s not so definitive. The 3-2 Calgary Roughnecks have won 3 straight and have the edge right now, but Washington and Colorado are butting heads in a key matchup that could keep either one (whoever wins) a half-game behind the Riggers. But that’s assuming the Riggers beat rival Edmonton on Saturday, which isn’t a given because even though the Rush haven’t beaten Calgary since 2010, you gotta think they’re due. Standings and records aside, we’ve got some juicy matchups between rivals this weekend with the aforementioned Calgary-Edmonton tilt, along with a Rochester at Buffalo showdown. The breakdown, it follows.

FRIDAY

Rochester Knighthawks at Philadelphia Wings
Friday, February 8th - Wells Fargo Center -11 a.m. (EST)

Records: Rochester 1-3, Philadelphia 2-2.
Broadcast: YouTube.
Last week: Rochester defeated Washington, 7-6; Philadelphia was off.
History: Knighthawks lead all-time series, 26-15 (11-10 in Philadelphia).
Goals for: Rochester 39 (9th); Philadelphia 42 (8th).
Goals against: Rochester 44 (1); Philadelphia 45 (2nd).
Scoring leaders: Rochester — Cody Jamieson (7-10, 17), Cory Vitarelli (7-4, 11), Dan Dawson (1-10, 11); Philadelphia — Kevin Crowley (9-10, 19), Kevin Buchanan (4-13, 17), Jordan Hall (4-12, 16).
League leaders: None.

Knighthawks notes

Last week against the Stealth, the Knighthawks led at halftime, 4-2, for the first time this season … F Mike Accursi played for the first time since the opener after being a healthy scratch for Weeks 2 and 3 … The Knighthawks are a league-best 64.7% on penalty kills … Rochester’s 7 goals in a winning effort tied the league record for fewest goals by a winning team … “It’s a work in progress,” coach Mike Hasen said of the offense. “We had a ton of chances and Tyler Richards played extremely well and he was a big difference. If the chances were not there for us, we’d be worried. We’ll get there.” … D Tyler Burton said a game like last weekend’s against Washington magnifies the responsibilities, so it was nice to see the team respond to the pressure of such a tight game. “We just try to not make mistakes. Any little mistake can lead to a goal.” … It’s one thing to play an afternoon game, but 11 a.m. is a bit different. Hasen said the early start time won’t affect Rochester’s lineup and everyone is accounted for. Still, whether it’s a night, afternoon or morning game, the Knighthawks expect to face a hungry Philadelphia team that’s coming off of 2 straight losses. “Their roster is always so quick and they move the ball well in transition,” said Hasen.

Wings notes

The defense has given up just 45 goals through 4 games after giving up 56 through the first 4 games last season … The were 2-2 through 4 games last season before they went on to win 5 of their next 7 … F Kevin Ross said the early start time won’t alter the approach by him or th Wings. “Once you get to the rink, nothing’s changed,” he said. … Coach and GM Johnny Mouradian agrees to a point, but does say the differences will need to be accounted for. “The biggest thing is making sure that once you get to the rink, it’s game time and make sure everything flows. The day before, you have to eat properly and get your rest. Each player has to look at it as an individual.” … Having a week off after losing 2 straight heightens the intensity to get back on the floor, said Ross. “It’s not the time you want to have a bye weekend,” he said. “A lot of excuses were made about being tired and we had that flat start. “Our biggest strength as a team is our athleticism and we hope to use that to bounce back and prove we are a top team in the East.” … Mouradian said the early start won’t affect his lineup and everyone is accounted for.

friday

Toronto Rock at Minnesota Swarm
Friday, February 8th - Xcel Energy Center - 8:30 p.m. (EST)

Records: Toronto 5-1, Minnesota 1-3.
Broadcast: TSN2 in Canada, ESPN3 in U.S., YouTube outside of North America.
Last week: Toronto defeated Buffalo, 14-12; Minnesota lost to Colorado, 15-9.
History: All time series tied, 5-5 (2-2 in Minnesota).
Goals for: Toronto 68 (3rd); Minnesota 48 (7th).
Goals against: Toronto 59 (6th); Minnesota 55 (4th).
Scoring leaders: Toronto — Garrett Billings (9-27, 36), Colin Doyle (8-23, 31), Josh Sanderson (12-12, 24); Minnesota — Ryan Benesch (10-12, 22), Shayne Jackson (7-12, 19), Callum Crawford (5-11, 16).
League leaders: Toronto – Garrett Billings (36 points, 27 assists), Nick Rose (5 wins, 9.76 goals-against, 246 saves).

Rock notes

F Colin Doyle has 31 points through 6 games after having just 16 points through his first 6 games last season … The Rock’s team goals-against average of 9.83 is best in the NLL and they’re the only team in single digits … The Rock needed a late rally to defeat the Swarm 13-12 on Jan. 25, but GM and assistant coach Terry Sanderson hopes it doesn’t come down to that again. “We had our hands full and hopefully, we’ll come with a little more respect this time,” he said. … F Garrett Billings, who will be playing his first game in Minnesota, says the Swarm presents a challenge in that defensively, they don’t employ a pressure defense like the one they’re used to seeing in practice. That’s translated into slow starts against the Swarm. “They still play a man-to-man so you have to be big on your picks and play a lot tougher … we have to play some old-school lacrosse and take it to them.” … Sanderson said T Jesse Gamble, who leads the team in loose balls (37) and has 3 forced turnovers, has been the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the season. “He’s surpassed what we have expected of him and he’s arguably been our best out of the back end this season.”

Swarm notes

All 3 Swarm losses this season have come on the road, but they play 3 of their next 4 games at home … Minnesota has scored a league-low 6 goals in the fourth quarter … The Swarm’s penalty killers are at 32%, tied for worst in the NLL … The Swarm were without injured F Callum Crawford (hamstring) and were held to just 9 goals after scoring 12, 12 and 15 in their first 3 games … T Andrew Suitor didn’t play in that first game against the Rock as he served a suspension … After facing John Grant Jr. last week, Suitor and the D get Garrett Billings this weekend. “We’ll play the same,” he said. “Everyone knows what they can do, so we’ll just try to take him out of his comfort zone.” … A 1-3 start is not what the Swarm envisioned this season, but that’s where they are. And it’s nothing to worry about yet, said coach Joe Sullivan. “They great thing about young guys is they’re resilient. To be involved in 3 1-goal games shows we’re competing.” … Suitor and Toronto G Nick Rose go back to their Junior A days in Orangeville, but that doesn’t give him any insight as to getting Rose off of his game. “It’s tough to rattle him,” he said.

SATURDAY

Rochester Knighthawks at Buffalo Bandits
Saturday, February 9th First Niagara Center - 7:30 p.m (EST)

Records: Rochester 1-3, Buffalo 3-2.
Broadcast: YouTube.
Last week: Rochester defeated Washington, 7-6; Buffalo lost to Toronto, 14-12.
History: Knighthawks lead all-time series, 26-20 (10-11 in Buffalo).
Goals for: Rochester 39 (9th); Buffalo 61 (4th).
Goals against: Rochester 44 (1st); Buffalo 65 (8th).
Scoring leaders: Rochester — Cody Jamieson (7-10, 17), Cory Vitarelli (7-4, 11), Dan Dawson (1-10, 11); Buffalo — Shawn Williams (5-21, 26), Dhane Smith (9-7, 16), Chad Culp (6-9, 15), Aaron Wilson (8-7, 15).
League leaders: None.

Knighthawks notes

Coach Mike Hasen said G Matt Vinc has been the key to the defense playing so well but the runners are developing a bond as well. “We’re a little better at communicating and guys are getting more comfortable with who they’re playing with,” he said. … F Dan Dawson has just 1 goal, on 23 shots on goal, and Hasen wants to see him shoot more. But that doesn’t mean he’s struggling. “He did more of that against Washington but yes, we would like to see him imposing a little more offense. He looks for guys and gets guys open because he’s doing a lot of the little things well. But we know they’re going to start dropping for him. It’s just a matter of time.”

Bandits notes

F Shawn Williams leads the team in scoring with 26 points but has scored more than 1 goal in just 1 game … T Mark Steenhuis scored 3 goals against Toronto to double the total he had in the 4 games prior … Coach Darris Kilgour said he’s pleased with the offense, but he doesn’t want to count on his team outrunning and outscoring opponents. The focus right now is on the defense and playing smart, disciplined lacrosse. “We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box,” he said. “We keep shooting ourselves in the foot with untimely penalties. We just need to play a little smarter.” … Steenhuis said it’s possible to do that, without compromising the physical part of the game. “The way our defense is set up, it gives us the ability to play as hard and as physical as we can … It’s just a matter of controlling it and making sure it’s on the body. Team discipline … trust. If everybody hops on board, you’ll see this defense pull it in.” … Injured F John Tavares (calf) will not play this weekend and Kilgour said JT’s recovery is coming along with the hope that this is the last weekend he’ll miss. … As for team discipline, Kilgour voiced his frustration with veteran D Billy Dee Smith, but remains optimistic he’ll come around. “He’s a tremendous player and he can match up against anybody and that’s part of the frustration. He doesn’t need to be taking the penalties he’s been taking.”

saturday

Edmonton Rush at Calgary Roughnecks
Saturday, February 9th - Scotiabank Saddledome - 9 p.m. (EST)

Records: Edmonton 1-3, Calgary 3-2.
Broadcast: Sportsnet ONE, YouTube.
Last week: Calgary defeated Edmonton, 18-15.
History: Rougnecks lead all-times series, 21-4 (8-2 in Calgary)
Goals for: Edmonton 52 (6th); Calgary 76 (1st).
Goals against: Edmonton 50 (3rd); Calgary 61 (7th).
Scoring leaders: Edmonton — Mark Matthews (10-11, 21), Ryan Ward (9-12, 21), Corey Small (8-11, 19); Calgary — Shawn Evans (15-20, 35), Jeff Shattler (8-16, 24), Dane Dobbie (12-10, 22).
League leaders: Edmonton — Kyle Rubisch (28 PIM); Calgary — Geoff Snider (78 loose balls, 11 forced turnovers).

Rush notes

The offense is on pace to score 208 goals, which would shatter the franchise’s single-season record of 186 (set in 2010) … F Ryan Ward scored 4 points in Saturday’s loss to Calgary, giving him 210 career points in 52 games with Edmonton. The franchise record is held by Jimmy Quinlan, who has 212 points through 115 games … Rookie F Mark Matthews is on pace to score 40 goals, which would break Chris Gill’s single-season franchise record of 37 (set on 2007) … The Rush are 0-3 at home this season, 1-0 on the road and play 7 of their next 9 on the road … The Rush played the Riggers straight up for a half, but mistakes in the second half is what cost them, said GM and coach Derek Keenan. “It’s a cruel game at times,” he said. “It was 6-3 at one point and we had an opportunity, but we dropped the ball and they scored and then Geoff Snider 20 seconds later scores so it’s 6-5 instead of maybe 7-3. The game just seemed to get sloppy.” … The Rush have not beaten the Roughnecks in the regular season since 2010, a stretch of 9 games. “We always seem to make mistakes against them at crucial times.” … F Ryan Ward knows this rivalry, and Edmonton’s shortcomings against their biggest rival, all too well. “It just comes down to limiting those errors down the stretch. That, and we’ve had a good power play all year but we let some opportunities slip by last week,” he said of the unit that was 1-for-7 with the extra man against Calgary.

Roughnecks notes

The Roughnecks are averaging 17.6 goals over their last 3 games after averaging 11.5 in their first 2 … The offense is on pace to score 243 goals, which would put them just 6 behind Rochester’s single-season record of 249 (scored in 2007) … Coach Curt Malawsky termed it an ugly win over Edmonton, especially in the discipline department. “We had 7 power plays against us and 4 were undisciplined penalties,” he said. … Rookie F Joe Resetarits says it’s been a fun ride so far but he’s learning his way. “I couldn’t ask for better guys to learn from,” he said. “I feel my game has progressed.” … Malawsky said that beyond the discipline, his defense will need to concentrate more on slowing Edmonton’s transition game. “We have to be better at protecting the ball … and there were certain things they exploited.” … Malawsky said fixing that may call for some systematic changes to eliminate the areas in which the Rush broke them down.”

Saturday

Colorado Mammoth at Washington Stealth
Saturday, February 9th - Comcast Arena - 10 p.m. (EST)

Records: Colorado 2-2, Washington 3-3.
Broadcast: YouTube.
Last week: Colorado defeated Minnesota, 15-9; Washington lost to Rochester, 7-6.
History: Washington Stealth lead all-time series, 8-1 (4-0 in Washington).
Goals for: Colorado 53 (5th); Washington 72 (2nd).
Goals against: Colorado 57 (5th); Washington 75 (9th).
Scoring leaders: Colorado — John Grant Jr. 17-13, 30), Gavin Prout (5-19, 24), Adam Jones (6-10, 16); Washington — Rhys Duch (15-13, 28), Cliff Smith (9-15, 24), Lewis Ratcliff (13-8, 21).
League leaders: Colorado — John Grant Jr. (17 goals, 9 power-play goals); Washington — Bob Snider (115 faceoff wins), Lewis Ratcliff (69 shots on goal).

Mammoth notes

The Mammoth lead the NLL with 110 PIM … With 30 points through 4 games, F John Grant Jr. is on pace for a 120-point season … T Ilija Gajic has won just 27% of his faceoffs this season, but some context is in order here: In the first 4 games of this season, he’s gone up against Bob Snider, Geoff Snider, Geoff Snider and Jordan MacIntosh … Coach Bob Hamley was pleased with the progress of the defense that gave up just 9 goals after giving up an average of 16 in the first 3 games. “We got a lead, which was very beneficial,” he said. “And we talked with Matt Roik and told him it’s his job and he seemed to take that to heart. He played with confidence and that confidence grew as the game went on. That means a lot.” … F Jamie Lincoln says there’s a big difference in the Stealth defense compared to last year’s unit, with underwent an off-season overhaul. “I’m familiar with a lot of the guys, but they’re a solid group of big, strong guys with good leadership.” … D Mac Allen is out for the season after tearing his repaired ACL.

Stealth notes

Averaging 13.2 goals per game in their first 5 games, the Stealth were held to 6 goals 48 shots against Rochester … After scoring 16 points in his first 3 games, F Cliff Smith has just 8 in his last 3. He scored 7 of his 9 goals in the first 2 games of the season … Special teams are not treating the Stealth well. The power play, at 42.9% , is worst in the league and the penalty killers, at 32%, are tied for worst in the NLL … Goaltender battles like the one the Stealth lost in Rochester calls more increased focus, said coach Chris Hall. “The little things become very big things,” he said. “We gave up a short-handed goal on a power play, which has been our Achilles’ Heel, and we also hit 3 crossbars. You’ve got to come out on the right end of those little things.” … D Curtis Hodgson said the Stealth are looking forward to some home cooking after 3 straight road games. “We’re comfortable there and we get treated really, really well in Washington. Guys are looking forward to getting home.” … The defense gave up just 7 goals and still lost, and now get to try to contain John Grant Jr. again after “holding” him to 3-3 in a 17-13 Stealth win on Jan. 12. “It’s no secret that the ball goes through Junior in the Colorado offense. And we’re not going to keep him off the scoresheet. You just hope you’re strong enough to limit his numbers. It’s a difficult job.” … The Stealth are more confident of that task with G Tyler Richards, who appears to be healthy after missing some time with an injury. “He’s 100% healthy and in Rochester, that was his strongest game he’s played this season. He gave us a chance to win … and he looks settled.”

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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