The battle for the east was hard-fought and close, as expected, with the 4-4 Wings coming into Toronto to play the 4-4 Rock. The winner would take first in the east as well as win the season series between these two. The Rock took an early but short lead, and the teams traded goals in the second, but the Wings pulled away in the third and held off a late Rock rally to win 12-10.
Kasey Beirnes gave the Rock the lead 3:48 into the first, but only eight seconds later Wings captain Brodie Merrill tied it up. Toronto never led again in the game, though they did tie it up three times in the second. One of those tying goals came with less than a minute left in the first half, which ended at 5-5. Drew Westervelt then scored early in the third to give the Wings a lead they’d never give up. The Rock scored two goals in 44 seconds with less than three minutes remaining to get within one, but that was as close as they’d get as David Brock put the game away with an empty-netter.
The Rock were playing catch-up all night, and did make a game of it, but Philly wouldn’t let them get any kind of momentum. Of the Rock’s ten goals on the night, five of them were followed by Philadelphia goals less than a minute later, and two of those were less than ten seconds later. It’s pretty deflating when you score and think “we’re making progress, only one more and we’re tied!” and then the other teams scores before your goal has even been announced.
The streak of Rock losses with Colin Doyle in the lineup continues. They have not won a game this year that Doyle has finished. That’s not to say this loss was his fault; I thought Doyle had a pretty good game. But it seems that the offense settled itself pretty well while he was injured, and once he returned they changed everything to allow him to run the show, rather than fitting him into the system they had used successfully. Stephan Leblanc’s frustrating season continues as well, as he was kept off the scoresheet entirely. Leblanc took 12 shots on net, but 5 missed the net completely and the rest hit Brandon Miller right in the chest. Garrett Billings took an amazing 19 shots, though only 8 of them hit the net, and only one went in. But most of Billings’ shots off net hit Philadelphia defenders before they ever got to the net. There were an awful lot of blocked shots by the Philly D.
Brandon Miller was excellent in the Philadelphia net, and the defense in front of him was very solid as well. The Rock passed the ball a lot because they couldn’t get shooting lanes (except for Doyle, who passed up shooting lanes for passes on a number of occasions). On the few occasions that they did manage to get clear shots, Miller shut the door. At the other end, Matt Roik made some good saves as well but let’s face it, he let in some that he really should have had. On Philadelphia’s ninth goal, he was way out in front of the crease trying to stop Kevin Crowley, but Crowley passed to Mike Hominuck on the right side of the crease and Roik was way too far out of position to have a chance to stop it. He stopped a lot of direct shots, but anything that bounced seemed to beat him. I get that you don’t want to kill the guy’s confidence by pulling him two games in a row, but you have to do what’s best for the team, and bringing in Pat Campbell would have been the right move. Campbell played very well last weekend after replacing Roik and really should have been in this game in the fourth.
That said, the Philly offense was able to have their way with the Rock defense, for the same reason that I mentioned in my last Philly @ Toronto game report: many of the Rock defenders are small while the Wings forwards are all huge. Watching Bruce Codd and Jesse Gamble pound on Drew Westervelt was almost funny, though they did a pretty decent job. At one point, Winds defender John McFadyen (listed as 6’7″ on the Wings site) was standing next to 5’7″ Josh Sanderson. At times this game looked like a high school team taking on the fourth graders from the elementary school next door.
In the third quarter, with Patrick Merrill in the box already, the Rock were given a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Considering what I’ve heard (and seen) Troy Cordingley yell at refs in the past without penalty, this had to be pretty bad. Anyway, the weird thing is that the ref had his hand up signalling a penalty. The Wings then had the rest of that 30-second possession and took a shot, grabbed the rebound, had another 30 second possession, another shot and another rebound, and then part of a third possession before the Rock grabbed the ball and play stopped. Wouldn’t it have made sense, at least after the first 30 seconds ended, to give the Rock the ball and get themselves a two-man power play? Or at least pull the goalie for an extra attacker? They would have had almost a full minute of 5-on-3 lacrosse. As it was, they did neither and played 5-on-4 for about 45 seconds. The Wings basically killed off the first penalty themselves and had a two-man advantage for all of 9 seconds. Then the Rock managed to kill off the second penalty.
Strangely, the Rock did the same thing less than two minutes later when Philly got hit with two penalties in quick succession. They could have given Philly the ball as soon as the second penalty was called to stop the clock and get a two-man advantage, but they didn’t. This one made a little more sense because the Rock pulled Roik, so they had a two-man advantage anyway. They ended up with a shorter 5-on-3, but did end up scoring after the first penalty was over.
Other game notes:
- It was great for the Rock to honour the Canadian Forces. Nobody is more deserving of our respect. But why was Wings captain Brodie Merrill left out of the ceremonial face-off? Seemed like a strange and unnecessary snub, especially since Merrill is Canadian. And obviously nobody told him, since he took a couple of steps towards centre before realizing that they never called his name.
- For the second home game in a row, Matt Roik was not announced during the opening lineups, and did not come out with the team. He did eventually make his way onto the floor.
- Rock music guy: when the Rock have possession near the end of such a close game, perhaps “Give it away give it away give it away now” isn’t the right song to play.
- Jesse Gamble had another great game. I really like watching this kid – he hustles everywhere and even my wife, who comes to maybe one lacrosse game per year, noticed how fast he was. He’d be a strong Rookie of the Year candidate in a normal year, but so many rookies have been so dominant this year that his chances are likely lessened. Still, I think he should at least be in the conversation.
- Ryan Sharp, on the other hand, is likely the Rock’s nominee for Dumb Penalty Champion of 2012. He only took two penalties but both were blatant and unnecessary, and one led to a power-play goal. Glen Bryan’s roughing penalty near the end of the third was also completely unnecessary, and he’s lucky he didn’t get five minutes for a cross-check to the head. That one led to a PP goal as well.