Optimism reigned supreme for the Edmonton Rush heading into 2013, and why not? The National Lacrosse League team lost in the Champion’s Cup the year before and added sniper Mark Matthews as the No. 1 overall draft pick. And even though the 9-7 record was better than the 6-10 mark from a year before, a first-round playoff loss capped a disappointing end to the season. The addition of Matthews and fellow rookie Curtis Knight gave the Rush the offensive punch they’d been searching for, and the defense was its usual wall. But there was something about the special teams that just didn’t click for the Rush in 2013 and that’s the element that haunted Edmonton during the offseason, especially when special teams played a big role in the first-round playoff loss to Washington.
The 3-5 mark to open the season was hardly what the Rush were expecting. But, 2 of those losses were by 1 goal, 1 was by 2 goals and another by 3, so it’s not as if things were terribly wrong in Edmonton. So even with the slow start, it was evident that the Rush had something powerful brewing. They were dominant in the 3 wins, the victories coming by a combined 20 goals. After a Week 8 loss to Minnesota dropped the Rush to 3-5, they came together. A 5-game winning streak pushed their mark to 8-5 and even though they went 1-2 in their final 3 games, the 9-7 mark at the end of the regular season was the franchise’s best since going 10-6 in 2010. It also was just the second time in the team’s 8 seasons that it finished above .500. The oddity about the whole thing is that the Rush were 2-6 at home and 7-1 on the road. But ultimately, it was Edmonton’s poor showing in close games that doomed it in the playoffs. The Rush were 0-3 in 1-goal games in the regular season and it was a 1-goal loss to Washington in the first round of the playoffs that ended their season. Need more? The Rush lost their 7 games by an average of 2.1 goals. They won their 9 games by an average of 5.3. So as painful as it was to come up short of expectations set high by the magical run of 2012, that pain just may serve as a valuable lesson down the road.
There wasn’t much wrong with the offense, at least by Edmonton standards. The 203 goals scored set a franchise record, 17 goals better than the 186-goal output of 2010. Rookie Mark Matthews was the catalyst, scoring a team-record 38 goals from the left side to lead a balanced stable of snipers. Corey Small and Zack Greer each scored 28, Ryan Ward added 21 and Jarrett Davis (16) and rookie Curtis Knight (19) added some secondary punch. The biggest problem for the Rush may have been a case of too-much, too-soon. They scored a league-high 60 goals in the first quarter, but the 47 fourth-quarter goals were tied for second-fewest in the NLL. So even though the Rush’s 203 goals-for ranked third-best in the league, it’s not just volume that counts. It’s when you score the goals that matter the most and when you score 1 goal in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, the odds aren’t in your favor.
Defence and Goaltending
Defense has become somewhat of a calling card for the Rush, and for good reason. Coach and general manager Derek Keenan has put together a unit that’s quick and fast, aggressive and physical. And with goalie Aaron Bold seeing a majority of the minutes, the combination resulted in a defense that surrendered just 170 goals, second-fewest in the NLL. Bold’s 10.56 goals-against average ranked second only to Rochester’s Matt Vinc but his save percentage at .744 put him well down the list (No. 8 ) among regular keepers, suggesting there’s a breakdown somewhere in the process that needs to be addressed. But there is more to defense than goaltending, and when it comes to marking, forcing turnovers and gathering loose balls, the Rush were trendsetters. Kyle Rubisch (44) and Brett Mydske (28) were 1 and 2 in forced turnovers, while Chris Corbeil (21) and Jeremy Thompson (20) gave the Rush 4 players in the Top 11 for that category. Forcing turnovers can be risky business, of course, but making Edmonton’s work in this category even more impressive is that the defense was whistled for just 249 penalty minutes (15.56 per game), which ranks as second-fewest in the NLL. In other words, the Rush were aggressive, but they were clean.
When your defense averages around 15 minutes of sin bin time per game, that’s a good thing. But when your opponents get just around 12 minutes of penalties per game, that’s not a good thing. The result for Edmonton was just 67 power-place chances, second-fewest in the NLL. So the extra-man opportunities were rare for the Rush and when they did get the chance, they converted at just around 49% (33 of 67), which ranked next-to-last in the NLL for both goals and percentage. On the flip side of the power play, the was result surprisingly soft. 5-on-5, the Rush were a stalwart D. Put them down a man, though, and the Rush were at the bottom of the NLL with a kill at 40% (31 of 52). And that played a role in last year’s playoff loss to the Stealth, who scored 4 power-play goals, 2 of them in the fourth quarter. Transition offense wasn’t much better for Edmonton with just 5 shorties, fewest in the league. Some tweaking may be in order for Edmonton’s special teams, especially in a league with so much parity where the slightest edge can be all the difference.
The Rush were about as quiet as any team could be on the transaction wire during the season. With offensive woes being their biggest challenge of the past few years, they addressed that need through the draft with Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight, both of whom played well and provided the needed boost out of the front door. The release of Tom Johnson in late January was probably the biggest move, and a bit surprising given his effectiveness off the ball as a cutter. But the offense didn’t miss a beat, obviously, when it finished the season with a franchise-record 203 goals.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 email@example.com or go to RochesterSports.com.
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