I can’t help but wonder if the current parity most of us love in the National Lacrosse League has its downsides. For instance, urgency of play — or lack thereof. The standings right now are as tight as I have ever seen them. The old ‘Any Given Sunday’ adage is truer than ever. Last weekend’s thumping of the Roughnecks by the Rush was somewhat of a surprise in how lopsided the final score was, as was Buffalo beating Toronto and then Philly edging Buffalo. Rochester merely eked by struggling last-place Colorado and Washington held what had been a solid Swarm attack of late to just eight goals. So here comes the bad part: With every team save one making the playoffs and every club still in the mix, it doesn’t seem as if there is that urgency to turn things around quickly and fix what ails a club.
Edmonton and Rochester showed last season that it doesn’t matter who is hot during the regular season, all that matters is the post-season. Slow and steady wins the race, if you will. Now there is no doubt every player on every team wants to win every game. These guys are warriors who don’t play this game for fame or fortune. I don’t question their desire or drive to win at all.
But when things aren’t going well, there doesn’t seem to be that panic I’ve seen in years past. Not the bad type of panic that can lead to a meltdown, but the healthy type of panic that helps drive a club and its players to turn things around for the next weekend. You can almost feel a calm “we’ll get it figured out eventually, don’t worry” type of vibe.
Maybe that’s the best approach? I’m not sure, to be honest.
Take for example the Roughnecks. Their defence — considered one of the best in the league coming into the season — has been lit up in their last four outings, three of them losses. They have surrendered 18, 16, 16 and 17 goals in those four games, a bloated average of 16.75 per contest.
Having covered the team since Day 1, I can’t remember the last time they got shelled like that. Must have been back in their first season, and I’m not including that 32-goal game they had against Montreal. It seems in the past fans would have been going nuts, as would the coaching staff. Heck, so, too, would the players.
Captain Andrew McBride told The Calgary Sun this week that his team doesn’t seem to have any ’swagger’ right now. To be honest, I don’t think any team is playing with swagger right now. Got to admit, that’s something I miss in this league right now.
MY RANDOM OBSERVATIONS FROM RUSH/ROUGHNECKS TILT:
• The Rush need to do a better job of protecting Mark Matthews. Not sure how they do that, but they need to. He took a beating in their win over the Roughnecks — a Colin Doyle-early-in-his-career, average-Dane-Dobbie-game x 2 type of beating. He was whacked, hacked and hit from behind a handful of times. The Riggers took a shot at him every chance they had. Those type of games are not good for career longevity, especially for a bigger player.
• Next time you watch the Rush play, keep a close eye on Jeremy Thompson. Not only is he great at the face-off circle, he pushes the ball up the floor very well and is hungry on loose balls. Very impressive player. He had nine loose balls against Calgary.
• The Roughnecks managed only 14 shots in the first half Saturday night. It was a combination of great Edmonton defence and woeful Calgary execution on offence. The Riggers looked like they were trying to be the Harlem Globetrotters, without any of the finish. I saw more flip passes — or intended flip passes — from Calgary in that half than I’ve seen them try in the last two seasons.
• It’s no coincidence that when the Rush win, Zack Greer usually has a good game. He scored three times Saturday night and showed the quick release on his shot that makes him so dangerous.
• Aaron Bold clearly watched lots of game tape from their last loss to the Roughnecks and really focused on stopping Curtis Dickson’s outside underhand blasts. Bold was ready every time No. 17 let one go and made some big stops.
• When you’re behind in an NLL game and have a big hole to dig out of, TRYING TO BE A ONE-MAN SHOW DOES NOT WORK. It’s easy to see why players feel the urgency to make something happen themselves and start chipping away at the lead, but when the ball starts sitting in one stick — any one stick —instead of moving around, it makes the job of the defence much easier.
• It was clear team captains Jimmy Quinlan and Andrew McBride didn’t want to get tossed from the game for a second major after their first fight. But there’s no doubt they would have loved a second round, especially Quinlan. After their quick bout in the second quarter, Quinlan screamed and yelled at McBride in the penalty box. You could read his lips: In between swears he voiced his displeasure with McBride pulling him down to the carpet instead of continuing their fight.
• Not sure if the Rush gameplan was to shoot low on Mike Poulin coming into the tilt, but that’s what they did. And it worked. Over and over and over.
• Rookie Joe Resetarits had his finest game as a pro. He had two goals and two assists, and played the type of gritty game that was similar to the guy he essentially replaced in the Calgary offence: Kaleb Toth.
• Speaking of Toth, helmets off to the Calgary Flames (owners of the Roughnecks) for an incredible send-off to No. 9. The nearly half-hour ceremony was professional, moving and well executed. The gift of a trip to Disneyland for his family was also a nice touch. The bar has now been set in the NLL for retirement ceremonies.
Two seconds proved an eternity in Denver Saturday night. That’s how many ticks past the final buzzer that Gavin Prout scored what would have been the tying goal in a loss to Rochester. Tough way to lose … Congrats to the aforementioned Prout for scoring his 300th career goal earlier in the defeat. One of the nicest and most well-spoken players in the NLL, Prout is still one of the most lethal on the floor … Anytime you can hold John Grant Jr. to less than three goals you’re gonna have a great chance to beat the Mammoth … Anthony Cosmo told me a few weeks ago that the Bandits were still a confident bunch and no one should count them out. After their recent play, no one is … While I’m sucking in the weekly staff game picks, doing pretty good in Fantasy play. Found my winning lineup on offence: Garrett Billings, Mark Matthews, Curtis Dickson and Kiel Matisz. Great bang for the buck … Jeff Shattler has found his game of late, scoring three goals and six points in each of his last two tilts. Love his goal celebrations at the Dome when he jumps up on the dasher of the glass. Great way to fire up the fans and it’s the type of celebration you can only do in lacrosse … Rush forward Ryan Ward has been criticized for being a streaky player and the pressure was on him after having a stellar post-season during the Rush’s run to the Champion’s Cup to duplicate that type of scoring during this regular season. His coach said he needed to step up prior to the season. So far, so good. Ward is fourth in league scoring with 16 goals and 51 points and on pace for a career season … Lewis Ratcliff leads the league in shots on net with 110, but Junior leads in total shots with 151.The assistant managing editor of the Calgary Sun, Pilson began covering the NLL when the Roughnecks started in 2000. The longtime lacrosse player has been contributing to Inside Lacrosse ever since. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to CalgarySun.com.
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