After a long trip to and from tonight’s game (see the last “Not awesome” point below), I’m too tired to write a full article. So, like I’ve done in the past and as we do on the Addicted to Lacrosse podcast every week, I’ll do an “awesome / not awesome” summary instead.
When Tom Schreiber got injured, some Rock fans were worried that the offence wouldn’t adjust. After a few rough outings, they went and scored 14 against New England and 17 against Calgary, and we thought they had adjusted. Well if they did, they adjusted right back on Friday night.
Most aspects of the Rock game were pretty good: Nick Rose was solid for the most part, the defense was also strong, and the transition was excellent. Anytime you get five transition goals and two from defenders you put yourself in a good position to win – assuming the offense does anything. But if they don’t…
In what might be an NLL first, not a single Rock offensive player scored a goal on Friday night. Kieran McArdle picked up one assist as did Reid Reinholdt (both on the same Challen Rogers goal), but that was it. Adam Jones, Rob Hellyer, Brett Hickey, newcomer Dan Taylor, and Phil Caputo combined for ZERO points. Props to the Mammoth defense who were exceptional at preventing many shots from occurring at all, and to Dillon Ward for stopping those that made it through.
I don’t know if there is a scouting report on Ward saying “shoot 5-hole!” but if there is, it was inaccurate on this night. The Rock seemed to be shooting there a lot (if they weren’t hitting Ward in the chest), and he stopped every one of them. It looked as if the Rock forwards were snakebitten again – shooting opportunities would come up and they’d pass instead. Lots of shots were taken from a fair ways out. I won’t say they weren’t trying to get inside but when they did try, the Mammoth D wouldn’t let them.
Meanwhile the transition guys were hitting the top corners. It got to the point where the Rock were down by two with three minutes left and I wanted them to send Rogers, Merrill, and Harris out instead of the regular O guys.
There was a comment on Facebook from a guy who complained about Nick Rose and suggested that the loss was his fault. Was Rose fantastic in this game? No, there were one or two goals that he probably could have stopped, and a couple of times he made a save though it seemed clear that he had no idea where the ball was. But he played well enough to keep his team in the game which is all you can ask from your goalie. The same commenter said later that sometimes a goalie can “steal” a game for you and Rose didn’t. While that’s true, we don’t get to decide when a goalie should steal a win for you. If your team only scores seven goals, blaming the goalie for allowing more than six is a little unrealistic. Blaming Rose for a loss like this smacks of “I don’t like Rose so I’ll blame him for everything”.
So as of right now (Saturday morning), we have four 7-7 teams in the East, and one 6-7. The West playoff picture is mostly set – it’ll very likely be Rush, Mammoth, Roughnecks in that order. The Mammoth could still catch the Rush for first, so something could change there. But in the East, we still have no idea and probably won’t for a couple of weeks. It wouldn’t surprise me if the very last game of the regular season (Georgia @ New England on April 29) decides the playoff fate of the entire East division.
Other game notes:
- Right at the end of the first quarter, a Rock player took a last-second shot on Ward. Mammoth defender Jordan Gilles grabbed the rebound and shot on the Rock net from his own goal line and scored. Top left corner. No bounce. The buzzer went while the ball was in flight so it didn’t count, but it was a beautiful shot nonetheless.
- The shot clock at one end of the floor was broken for most of the game, so the PA announcer gave teams 10 and 5 second warnings when the clock was running down. It’s the first shot clock problem I remember seeing at Rock games for a number of years, but it did remind me of a few games in one season a long time ago where shot clock problems were relatively frequent.
- Another weird stat: a week after I wrote an article on unassisted goals, four of the Rock’s seven goals were unassisted. Two more had only assist, and only one goal had two. This means that the Rock had more goals (seven) than total assists (four) in this game.
Well, that game had a different outcome than what I was expecting, in a number of ways. First off, I predicted a Toronto victory though I can’t say I was shocked that Georgia won. Secondly, the last three times these two teams met saw OT so I was expecting a closer game, which it was until Toronto stopped scoring. And third, given the first two minutes of the game, I didn’t expect it to be a defensive battle.
Two minutes into the first quarter, it was 2-1 Rock with the shot count sitting at 2-1 Rock. My dad came with me to this game and we joked that the game might end up 27-26. It settled down after that, and we only saw two more goals the rest of the quarter. A few minutes into the second, Toronto scored a couple more within a minute and while I wouldn’t say the Rock were in control, all facets of the team were doing well. Unfortunately for them, all facets of the Swarm game were also doing well. Then Georgia began to score and Toronto stopped. It would be over 32 minutes before the Rock scored again and by that time, the Swarm had scored six straight. The Rock scored two in the first two minutes, and then five in the next fifty eight.
The three goal deficit was certainly not insurmountable given that there was almost nine minutes left, but Mike Poulin was on his game and there was no way he was going to let the Rock back into it. Poulin was excellent, particularly in the second half, stopping almost everything that got to him. However a lot of shots never got to him, either because they were blocked or because they were never taken in the first place, and that was because of the D in front of him. I don’t know how many times a Rock forward, mostly Adam Jones, reared back to fire a bullet at the net only to pull up at the last second and pass instead because he couldn’t see the net at all.
Kudos must go to three parties on the Rock side as well:
- Nick Rose
- The Rock D
- The posts and crossbar
There were one or two goals on Rose that you might have expected him to stop, but for the most part, he was very good. He made a few sliding stops to prevent quickstick goals, something he’s getting very good at, and threw his arms up at least once to prevent a goal from behind the net. Toronto’s defense was very good as well; perhaps less effective than Georgia at actually blocking shots, but there were a lot of ball-dislodging stick checks and quick transition. However, the transition seemed to lead to a lot of ill-advised shots, perhaps from defenders trying to spark the struggling offense. No Rock transition players scored at all so the only effect it had was a lot of five-second possessions.
For the second straight night, I lost count of how many times the Swarm forwards hit posts or the crossbar. If the net was an inch wider or higher, this would have been a much higher scoring game – probably on both sides, since the Rock hit a few as well. What that means of course is that there were a bunch of shots that Nick Rose will get credit for saving even though they actually beat him. But I think the bigger problem for the Swarm is that they were putting those shots in last year and just missing them this year.
The biggest missed opportunity for the Rock was the power play. They had six power plays, scoring on none of them. In the third, they had a 5-on-4 for 45 seconds, then 5-on-3 for a minute and a half, and then 5-4 again for about three and a half minutes. They had a bunch of shots but the Poulin Wall held.
I’m a big fan of Brock Sorensen and I think he’s had a good season but he had a frustrating night. First, he had an early breakaway but while running (lumbering?) up the floor, it really looked like it took every ounce of strength he had just to continue running, and he wasn’t running that fast. It looked like he was in pain but he kept going. Then he took two penalties at the same time early in the fourth – as Pat Gregoire said on the broadcast, the holding one was fine, preventing a scoring chance, but the illegal crosscheck was unnecessary. Once he got into the penalty box, he smacked his stick against the glass in anger, which could have been another penalty (unsportsmanlike conduct – there’s a rule that specifically addresses hitting the glass with your stick in the penalty box) but the ref either didn’t see it or chose to ignore it.
Then right at the end of the fourth, Bryan Cole and Phil Caputo each took roughing penalties and while those were being announced, Ethan O’Connor was heading from the Swarm bench out onto the floor and out of nowhere, Sorensen cross-checked him to the ground. There was no obvious reason for the hit, and O’Connor stayed down on the ground for a while until he ran the ten feet to the bench and heaved his pregame meal over the boards. That’s not a good sign. The game was mostly over by that point so Sorensen’s five minute penalty didn’t matter but I wouldn’t be surprised if the league reviews that one. Sorensen may have to sit another game and think about what he did.
Other game notes:
- I saw a fan wearing a Bandits jersey – a bit weird at a Rock/Swarm game. But then I saw that it said “Orleman” on the back. Must have been a fan or family member of the Swarm’s backup goalie.
- Jordan Hall was given a game misconduct for a
nasty crosscheckillegal bodycheck to the head of Damon Edwards. If that seemed out of character, it was: it was the first game misconduct in Hall’s career. He hadn’t even had a major penalty since 2012. Update: I watched the replay and I got the penalty wrong – it was an illegal bodycheck, not crosscheck. The word “nasty” is probably not accurate either. Hall led with his shoulder, which is totally legal, but hit Edwards in the face which may be why he got the penalty. I don’t think it was worth a game misconduct though.
- Did anyone notice that when the ball was lodged in Poulin’s equipment during the fourth quarter, the clock continued to run? A good 30 seconds was lost because of that. I didn’t see it but my friend Steve noticed. Oddly though, I was unable to find it on the replay. Perhaps it was in the third quarter.
- At one point in the second quarter, Lyle Thompson must have played about five consecutive shifts. Played offense, then got caught on defense, then back to offense, another quick transition meant another defensive shift, then another on offense before he finally made it to the bench. Luckily for the Swarm he’s a very good defensive player, but I’m sure he was gassed after that.
The NLL is weird. We have a team that’s 4-2, in first place in the East, and has averaged 20+ goals over their last four games, and another team that’s 1-5 and second-last in the league in goals scored. Then the 1-5 team beats the 4-2 team and I’m not that surprised. Make no mistake, I didn’t expect a Calgary win on Saturday; I predicted another Rock victory. But we’ve already had the Bandits losing to the winless Stealth and then beating the undefeated Rush a week later. We’ve seen the powerhouse Rush start like they could go 18-0 and then show very un-Rush-like second-half collapses in consecutive weeks. A 1-5 team beating a 4-2 team just isn’t crazy enough to make the list anymore.
People in the know have been talking about Christian Del Bianco for a couple of years now, about how he’s going to be a star goalie in the NLL someday. In the year-and-a-bit he’s been in the league, we’ve seen flashes here and there of what he could be, but we’ve seen that before from other players. More often, we’ve seen him look more like a goalie that’s been brought up to the NLL level a little too quickly. But last week, he was great in the second half of their game against the Rush (I didn’t see the first half), and I read some comments saying we’re starting to see the same Del Bianco they saw in Junior. I never saw him play in Junior but I imagine that that’s what we saw on Saturday as well. He was simply outstanding all night. He played the angles well, anticipated passes and quicksticks, made all the saves you expected him to make and few you really didn’t. He’s not that big of a guy but he’s quick, athletic, and covers a lot of net.
That’s not to say the Rock’s lack of success in the offensive zone was all due to Del Bianco. The Roughnecks defense was strong all night as well, preventing the Rock from getting good looks or getting inside. Of course they had the advantage of knowing that their goalie was having a night, and so they could be a little more aggressive. The Roughnecks offense had a pretty decent game until the end of the third, when they suddenly began having a great game. Calgary scored the last nine goals of the game and kept the Rock off the board in the fourth quarter, which is exactly what Toronto did to New England last weekend.
Curtis Dickson scored a few “nobody could have stopped that one” goals and Dane Dobbie scored some beauties from crazy angles, but you kind of expect those. But Riley Loewen scored three and Holden Cattoni had a couple as well, and their transition players picked up a couple of goals and a dozen assists. If you get scoring from all over and are not relying on just one or two guys to do it all, you’re going to have success.
Toronto’s offense, on the other hand, was more flat than we’ve seen recently. The final score could have told you that, but they didn’t seem to have the crisp passing and seemingly magical knowledge of where everyone else was going to be. Again, props to the Roughnecks defense for pressuring the Rock into that situation. Rosey was Rosey for most of the game but his confidence seemed to wane in the fourth when the Roughnecks were scoring seemingly at will. Not all of those fourth quarter goals were his fault (the Rock D was a little more porous than we’ve seen the rest of the year), but not all were unstoppable either. That said, the game was pretty much over by then anyway.
So the Roughnecks got some confidence with their strong play against the Rush last week, and they played like we knew they could. The Rock fell back to Earth but it’s hardly panic time. Once again, parity in the NLL rears its ugly and beautiful head.
Other game notes:
- Once again, Lintner scratched. Once again, the first four or five Rock players hi-fived the kids on the line and none of the rest did. Props to Brock Sorensen for not simply holding his hand out while running down the line – he made sure to give a fist bump to each and every kid in the line.
- Second-year player Tyson Bell almost lost it and went after a Rock player but vet (and former Calgary captain) Mike Carnegie was very captain-like, grabbing Bell and calming him down before he took a penalty.
- Adam Jones took a five minute spearing penalty for basically putting the head of his stick under a Calgary player’s chin and lifting it up. It was after the play and it was a controlled move so the description sounds worse than it really was. It wasn’t nice, but it was hardly intent to injure either and the Roughnecks player may have sold it a little. That said, I was OK with the call. Your stick should never be anywhere near someone else’s throat.
- Nice crowd of over 10,000. First such crowd of the season.
- Music: I heard Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Toto, AC/DC, Queen, and even Rick Derringer. And not dancy remixes of those either. 70’s classic rock FTW! Maybe I am the target demographic.
The Rock just keep rolling. I really tried not to use that old cliché but it’s just so appropriate right now. The team had averaged more than 20 goals per game over their last three and still managed to increase that average. Meanwhile the defense managed to prevent Shawn Evans from scoring and kept their opponents to under 10 goals for the third straight game.
The Rock offense took a while to get going. After Rob Hellyer’s goal 36 seconds in, it was almost nine minutes before their next goal, and then another 5½ before their third. I guess that’s their 2018 season in a nutshell: took a while to get the offense going but once they did… look out. Adam Jones continues to look much more like the Colorado Adam Jones than the Saskatchewan one; he, Hellyer, and Tom Schreiber seem to really love playing together. Craig, McArdle, and Reinholdt continue to produce as one of the better secondary scoring teams around. On the other hand, Brett Hickey only had one goal and that was in garbage time. He has less than half the points of Hellyer, Schreiber, and Jones, so I’m not sure what’s going on with him. Maybe he’s struggling with the new system, or perhaps he’s playing the Kasey Beirnes role – more of a grinder, allowing the other guys to get open rather than scoring the goals himself. But his ten shots on goal tell a different story. I’ll have to pay some more attention to him and see.
Tom Schreiber continues to work his butt off on every shift. It’s not just his goals which range from long-distance bullets to acrobatic crease dives, but he sets hard picks, digs in corners, holds onto the ball despite being double-teamed, and makes pinpoint passes through traffic when a teammate is open. He is quickly becoming my early pick for MVP. We’re only a third of the way through the season so obviously a lot can change but the man does everything, and does it very well.
The Rock as a whole were battling hard all night. Everyone was working for loose balls and intercepting passes (that happened a lot on both sides, actually). Even once they were up by seven or eight, they kept working hard – until they stopped. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Offense tends to get the glory, but Toronto’s defense had another strong game as well. In particular, I thought Brad Kri had an excellent game. Shawn Evans was frustrated all night that he couldn’t get clean shots and when he did all he could see was Rosey. He ended up with no goals, which is rare for Evans. The two Kevins, Buchanan and Crowley, managed to get open once or twice each and shot lasers past Rose, and former Rock forward Stephan Leblanc scored a couple as well.
Rose was strong most of the night, making a couple of highlight reel saves, though a couple of the goals he did allow were kind of soft and he probably wants them b… I mean they’re shots he probably should have stopped.
Aaron Bold didn’t have a great game at all, which should be obvious given the score. Glenn Clark left him in for quite a while – it was into the fourth quarter before Bold got the hook, and he’d already given up 16 goals. Doug Jamieson gave up five in 14 minutes so both goaltenders ended up with almost identical GAAs: 20.98 for Bold and 21.05 for Jamieson. Some of the goals weren’t the fault of the goaltenders though. When Adam Jones has the ball alone on the edge of the crease and has a couple of seconds to decide where to put it, that’s a defensive breakdown, not a failing of the goaltender. If you’re a baseball fan, that’s the “unearned run” of lacrosse.
One interesting thing I noticed about Bold: immediately after he allows a goal, sometimes before the ball is even retrieved from the net, he gets himself set up again and practices the moves that would have stopped that shot, like “here’s what I should have done”. He does that once or twice, then gets on with the game. Matt Vinc does this as well. Maybe that’s their way of not allowing a goal to get to them and affect their confidence – this is the mistake I made, here’s how I’ll stop it the next time, now we can move on. Nick Rose doesn’t do the “practice” thing but he’s also really good at not letting goals rattle him.
The game was quite entertaining for the most part, but it seemed that “garbage time” lasted quite a while. The Rock kept pushing the ball and playing hard until they got to 20 goals, and then they flipped the switch to keep-away mode. The Rock scored six goals in about four minutes at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and then only one more over the next 10+ minutes. As soon as they hit 20, each Rock possession took 29 seconds and they passed up a few obvious scoring opportunities in order to kill clock. I certainly don’t blame them for this, running up the score any further was unnecessary, I just thought it was interesting how different the game looked the second they they hit the 20-goal plateau.
Other game notes:
- Dan Lintner was scratched again. He played in the two Rock losses and watched all four wins. That’s gotta suck when you’re 25 and not injured. Seriously, I like his game and what he brings to the floor but if someone will give you a second-round pick for him, send him. Keeping him on the bench is unfair to him.
- The announcer tried a couple of new things: when Rob Hellyer scored, he says “Robbie who?” and we’re all supposed to yell either “Hell yeah!” or “Hellyer”, it wasn’t entirely clear which. But “Johnny who?” “TAVARES!” was a call in Buffalo for many many years, and for anyone who’s seen a game in Banditland, this was a little familiar. Too soon, man.
- The other thing the announcer did was after some goals he said something to the effect of “Rock fans: holler if you hear me!” which I didn’t understand. Perhaps he was just testing the microphone (“Is this thing on? Holler if you hear me”), or maybe it’s a reference to a song or movie or something that I’m too old to get.
- Props to DJ Sweet Lou for playing The Tea Party and Metallica among the electronic dancy stuff. I’m not a big fan of the dancy stuff, though as I’ve said before, I’m not the target demographic either. But the world needs more Tea Party. Even better: add in a little Muse and Porcupine Tree.
- Very clean game, which is unusual for a blowout like this. Only two penalties in the entire game, one to each team.
- Dear Rock players: when there’s a group of kids standing on the restraining line as you are introduced, you need to give them a glove tap before you acknowledge your teammates. The first four or five players do this, and then the rest of the team doesn’t. It’s kind of sad to see these kids standing out there watching the Rock players run past them as if they weren’t there.
- The Rock had the “Rock cheerleader alumni” perform at halftime. Some of those dancers were part of the Rock cheerleading squad 20 years ago – which means they’re in their 40’s now – and they did a great job.
- Classy move by the Rock to acknowledge the contributions of Stephen Leblanc during the game. I saw a few Black Wolves players banging their sticks on the boards as well and one or two gave Leblanc a literal pat on the back.
After a rough 0-2 start, the Rock’s wining streak continued on Friday night with a 17-9 win over the Rochester Knighthawks. Or if you’re a Knighthawks fan, after a strong 2-0 start, the Knighthawks lost their second straight game on Friday night, a 17-9 loss to the Toronto Rock.
The Knighthawks did not look like the same team that demolished the Bandits a few weeks back. Their offense was haphazard – they actually looked a bit like the Rock in their first couple of games. That said, they were up against the Rock defense, who had a great game. A couple of the Rochester goals were scored from inside (I specifically remember Dawson’s goal – he basically ran straight up the middle almost untouched) but for the most part, they were all outside shots because they just couldn’t get to the inside.
As good as the Rock’s offense and defense was, their transition game was on fire. It seemed that almost every time a Knighthawks possession ended, there was a Rock transition scoring opportunity – a two-on-one or partial breakaway. Burns, Rogers, Merrill, Caputo, Edwards, Sorensen, Harris, even Hostrawser were flying up the floor all night long.
Nick Rose played well in general, stopping most of the shots he should have stopped. He also stopped at least one shot he had no earthly business stopping at all, robbing the Knighthawks of a wide-open almost empty-net goal with an acrobatic stick save. Rochester scored on a very similar play later in the game, but we gave Rosey a pass on that one since you can’t expect that kind of miraculous save twice in one game.
Matt Vinc was not strong in the Rochester net and was pulled after only thirteen minutes. Note that he had already faced 17 shots by that point, but didn’t seem to be seeing the ball well. Angus Goodleaf came in and did a pretty decent job, finishing with a respectable save percentage of 77.8%, but the Rock offense took enough shots that saving 77.8% of them still led to 11 goals.
I know it’s only been a couple of games but trading Stephan Leblanc for Sheldon Burns is starting to look like a brilliant move. Burns is all over the floor, scoring goals and intercepting passes, and seems as much a quarterback of the transition as Brodie Merrill. As I’ve said before (I think), it’s not like Leblanc was a drain on the offense and getting rid of him has helped them. Their improvement over the first two games was just a matter of timing. They’ve simply adjusted after the addition of Hellyer and Jones and offensive coach Blaine Manning has them playing like a well-oiled machine. Guys like Reinholdt, McArdle, and Craig are contributing not only with goals but in getting inside and setting picks; Reinholdt did a particularly nice job with a pick that allowed Schreiber a wide-open look at the net for one of his four goals. The fact that they’re not missing Leblanc (or Lintner, see below) is not a statement on those players or their abilities, it’s a testament to the players they have.
Other game notes:
- Dan Lintner was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. I feel bad for him – with the Rock’s offense scoring 61 goals in the last three games, the team is not likely to want to make any personnel changes unless they have to. You don’t mess with what’s working. But hopefully that doesn’t mean Lintner sits for significant time. I like what he brings to the team and IMHO he’s too good a player to sit that long.
- Knighthawks rookie Austin Shanks played his first NLL game and played well, scoring two goals. I picked Shanks as one of my rookie of the year finalists and I stand by that (assuming he gets more playing time), though Zach Currier is making the strongest case for this award thus far.
- Kyle Jackson scored a beauty, grabbing a rebound directly in front of the net and immediately flipping it behind his back into the goal. The Knighthawks tweeted that it was a “vicious BTB” and vicious was a pretty good word for it.
- At one point, the ball went under a section of the carpet while three or four players were fighting for the loosie. The ref decided to hold another face-off, meaning that this is a rare case where the total number of face-offs in the game was NOT equal to four plus the total number of goals. This is only the fourth such game this season. Two of them featured a goal at 14:59 of a quarter, so presumably no face-off was held afterwards. This will be the first entry for my new Twitter account, @NLLObscureAndUselessFactOfTheDay.
- Early in the game, a ref got hit in the shoulder by a ricochet after a shot; it knocked him flying but he got up and continued. Later, a ref was taken down by a collision with a Knighthawks player. Don’t know if it was the same ref but if so, he might have been the first one in the ice bath after the game.
- Only 7101 people at this game, the lowest regular-season attendance (and second-lowest ever) in Rock history. However, the weather outside was frightful. It was 10-12 degrees and pouring rain in the morning, then the temperature dropped near zero by 2pm and everything froze, then an inch of snow fell before dinner time. By game time, it was ‑10. Those are in Celsius; if you’re a Fahrenheit person, the temperature dropped from 50 to 14 degrees in eight hours.
That’s more like it.
When the Rock hosted the Bandits on Saturday night, nobody knew what to expect. Would we see a repeat of each team’s first game of the season when Toronto’s offense didn’t show up and Buffalo played great? Would Buque rebound from his tough outing against the Knighthawks last week? Would the Rock transition show the improvements that they hoped for with the additions of Challen Rogers and Sheldon Burns? The answers were no, no, and yes.