Scoring hasn’t been a problem for the Roughnecks this season. They are averaging a league-best 14.5 goals per outing. They are also No. 1 in the more dubious category of goals against, allowing 13.72 per National Lacrosse League outing. The Riggers’ vaunted “pressure” defence of old has been more like a “pr” defence this season. Or, maybe to be fair, a “pre” defence. Over their last five games — in which they’ve gone 2-3 — they’ve allowed a whopping 16.4 goals per tilt. For a team that prides itself on its defensive play, these most recent games hearken back to the club’s early run-and-gun years when they had to fill the net to have any chance to win. Not exactly the style of play head coach Curt Malawsky wants to see.
There are many reasons for the team’s defensive struggles this season:
1. Scoring is up across the league. In the contracted, talent-laden NLL, goals are easier to come by;
2. Penalties — the team has taken a lot of them this season. Some good, many stupid. At the end of the day, it’s meant a lot of PP goals against;
3. Defending Goalie of the Year Mike Poulin has played OK, but nowhere near as good as last season. He’s struggled for long stretches in games and failed to make the type of saves he did in 2012;
4. And, finally, the club has had an influx of new players and spent the regular season to this point mixing things up, said Malawsky, trying to find the right formula for them to have success when it counts most: Come playoff time.
“Our mandate this year was to make sure we had everybody play as much as they can and throughout the season so we know exactly what we have going into the end of the year,” said Malawsky. “I think we’ve got a real good indication so far. If you look at our lineup, I think all our draft picks have been in games.
“We’ve tried different guys in different positions and we’re getting a good read on what guys can do in various positions in the pressure cooker of games. That is what the season is for — to work out your kinks and and know exactly what your personnel can do in a one-and-done playoff game. You don’t have time to test stuff out in those games.”
That said, Malawsky does admit his defence still hasn’t played up to expectations, especially during this last five-game stretch.
“We’ve done some different things and tested some different things but we do have a pressure defence and we always preach that the best off-ball defence is great on-ball pressure,” said Malawsky. “And, at times this year, that pressure hasn’t been there for whatever reason. Could it be better? Absolutely. It needs to be better, we know that. There are areas we have to improve on. I’m confident we’ll get it turned around. By no means are we pushing the panic button.”
The Roughnecks have certainly faced plenty of adversity on the floor this season and they’ve had their share off it as well, said Malawsky, not wanting to elaborate on that area. He sees the adversity as a positive thing. The club has sailed through the last few regular seasons putting up stellar records only to taste bitter post-season failure.
Working out the kinks now and saving their best for last, so to speak, seems a preferable course to take as opposed to the one they’ve charted recently. To put it bluntly, Malawsky, the franchise, and the players don’t want another early playoff exit.
“We’d rather have it now than when it’s one and done,” said Malawsky. “We’ve learned from (the adversity) and grown as a group together. We’re confident.”
The Roughnecks have a bye week before hosting the Colorado Mammoth on March 23. It comes at a bad time for their red-hot offence, but the break will be a welcome chance to work on their defensive woes.
Because you know how the old saying goes …
“Offence will win games and defence will win championships — that’s something I’ve said since the beginning of the year,” said Malawsky. “So we’ll focus on that through our last five games of the season.”
Dane Dobbie has put himself squarely in the conversation when it comes to winning the MVP award. The lefty scored six times for Calgary Saturday night and now has 30 goals in only nine games (He’s second to Rhys Duch who has 31 goals, but in 11 games). Dobbie is averaging 3.33 goals a game and scoring on better than 25% of his shots (second best shooting percentage among forwards behind Kasey Beirnes at 28%). Said Malawsky of his southpaw: “He’s very focused — he’s on a mission this season. He’s really maturing into a great lacrosse player. Our guys follow Dane Dobbie. He’s not another guy, he’s a guy who has to step up, produce and when he does produce, our team follows him.” … With the new focus on cracking down on headshots, the Roughnecks lost a golden chance for a five-minute powerplay during the first half of their win over Minny, but luckily didn’t lose one of their top players. Curtis Dickson took a vicious cross-check to the head (didn’t catch what D player delivered it) and went down in a heap, before dragging himself up and off the floor and straight down the tunnel to the dressing room. Neither ref saw it but Dickson did eventually return to the game … I was one of those guys who thought Shayne Jackson would have a much bigger impact in the NLL. He was barely noticeable for much of the Swarm’s loss Friday night … Plenty of fisticuffs to finish out both the Bandits/Mammoth tilt and the Stealth/Wings game. Will be interesting to see how the league reacts. They wanted to cut down on that type of thing, especially multiple fights late in games that were already decided … His critics say he shoots too much, but worth noting that Shawn Evans not only leads the league in points with 72, but in assists, as well, with 49 … These numbers tell a big part of the story in the Wings loss to the Stealth. Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff combined for a team leading 27 shots and scored nine goals. The Wings’ top two shooters were Kevin Crowley who had no goals on 15 shots and Paul Rabil, who showed well with two goals on eight shots. Still, two goals on 23 shots won’t cut it … Nice to see veteran Blaine Manning have a big game with three goals in Toronto’s win over Colorado Friday night. He doesn’t score as often anymore, but makes his chances count. His hat-trick came on just four shots in the game. Not too shabby … Sure, it wasn’t the best possible weekend for Colorado’s young goaltending tandem but they played pretty darn well. Tye Belanger and Dan Lewis split time while allowing 14 goals to Toronto (to be fair, five came on the PP) and Belanger stopped 30 of 36 shots he faced in holding Buffalo to just six goals. Finally some good news for Mammoth fans between the pipes.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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