It will be a battle of the top two teams in the league when the Calgary Roughnecks and the Toronto Rock square off at the Air Canada Centre this weekend. Both clubs come in with a 4-2 mark and are in first place in their respective divisions.
Toronto is coming off its second loss in three weeks, a 9-7 defeat to the Boston Blazers last Saturday. Though the Rock are still in first place in the Eastern Division, the gap between them and second-place Buffalo is quickly closing. If Toronto loses and Buffalo beats Philadelphia this week, the Rock will fall from the top spot in the division, a place they’ve been all season.
The Rock have struggled to get goals the past two weeks as they’ve only been able to find the back of the net a total of 15 times. In Toronto’s first four games, the Rock were averaging 13.5 goals per game, by far one of highest averages in the league.
It will be crucial for Toronto to get its offense going again this week as Calgary has scored 71 goals this season, the most in the Western Division and the second most in the league.
“To say it is not a concern then I would be lying to you,” said Toronto general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson about his club’s lack of offense as of late. “We have to give credit to Buffalo and to Boston last week on how they defended us. We do feel that we have a pretty good group there (the offense) and we have to get back to doing the things that [assistant coach] John [Lovell] and [head coach] Troy [Cordingly] have been preaching. The guys just have to work at it all the time and not just for a couple of shifts.”
This Saturday’s contest is probably a bit too early for it to be a statement game, but it is a chance for the Rock to show that they are the real deal in the league and can get back to the finals.
“We both find ourselves in first place in our divisions,” Sanderson said. “Everything is so tight. Whether we deserve to be there or if Calgary deserves to be there, people are going to have their own arguments to that. We just like the fact that we are going to be up against arguably the best team in the league. We need to get our offense to come here and show that we are capable of putting up some numbers against a good defensive team.”
The Rock aren’t the only squad that have the utmost respect for their opponent, as the Roughnecks feel the same way with Toronto.
“They are the No. 1-ranked team in the league,” said Calgary head coach Dave Pym. “They were the Champions Cup finalists last year and they are expected to win it all this year.”
The Roughnecks are coming off of a bye week in which a Minnesota loss to Buffalo last Friday gave them first place in the Western Division. Calgary has won two games in a row, with both victories coming in a weekend home-and-home series against Alberta rival, the Edmonton Rush in Week 4.
Calgary goaltender Mike Poulin hasn’t played like one of the top-tier goalies in the league so far this season, but he has played well enough to keep the Roughnecks in every game. Poulin's last two games might have been his best, as he made 43 and 44 saves against the Rush on back-to-back nights.
“He’s the guy in the cage that gives us an opportunity to win every night,” Pym said. “He’s made some saves that he probably shouldn’t have made and has stopped the ones he should. He’s one of the key ingredients to our success.”
These two teams may meet again in the Champions Cup final, but before they can play for the championship, they’ll meet again for Game 2 of their season series in Calgary on Mar. 25.
Saturday’s game will be broadcasted live at 7 p.m. on TSN 2 for Canadian viewers and on the NLL Network at NLL.com (blackout in Canada).
Here is a look at the other five Week 6 games in the National Lacrosse League.
Washington Stealth vs. Edmonton Rush: Friday, Feb. 11, 9 p.m. EST in Edmonton; Saturday, Feb. 12, 10:30 p.m. EST in Everett, Washington
The Edmonton Rush will be looking for their first win of the season this weekend as they’ll play a home-and-home series against the defending champs, the Washington Stealth.
Edmonton (0-5) had a bye in Week 6 of the NLL season after playing another home-and-home series against Alberta rival, the Calgary Roughnecks in Week 5. The Rush lost 15-11 at home on Jan. 28 and 12-11 in overtime on Jan. 29 in Calgary.
“It was good to have some time off,” said Edmonton head coach Derek Keenan on the bye week. “We were a little banged up physically and probably emotionally too after our [0-5] start, and what I thought was an extremely well played game by us in Calgary, we just didn’t get the result. We spent some time speaking with the guys individually and try to focus here that we are in a situation where we have to consider every week like a playoff game here forward.”
After starting the year 1-2, Washington has won two of its last three, including last week’s game in Colorado where it ended the game with four straight fourth-quarter goals to earn the 10-8 victory.
It looks as if the Stealth (3-3) have put their championship hangover to rest for the time being, and two wins versus Edmonton this week would return them back to first place in the NLL Western Division.
The Stealth and the Rush will begin the weekend home-and-home series at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Friday at 9 p.m. EST before playing at Comcast Arena in Everett, Washington on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. EST.
Buffalo Bandits at Philadelphia Wings: Saturday, Feb. 12, 7 p.m. EST
The Minnesota Swarm were flying high last week, coming off three straight victories, but the Buffalo Bandits stopped the buzzing, delivering a convincing 15-12 win to Minnesota.
The victory for Buffalo wasn’t just big in that it beat the top team in the Western Division, but that it got its offense back on track after only scoring five times the week prior against Toronto.
“It was a really big win for the Bandits,” said Buffalo assistant coach Rich Kilgour of the win over Minnesota. “At this point right now, we are winning games even though we aren’t playing our absolute best. Our defense gave up 12 [goals], which is probably a couple too many, and our offense came around after a disappointing performance in Toronto—they came back with 16 [goals]. We would like to put together a game where our offense scores 15 and our defense holds someone to seven or eight.”
This week, the Bandits would like to keep the momentum from the Swarm game going, as they head to the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Philadelphia Wings, who ended a three-game winning streak last Saturday in Rochester.
Saturday’s game will be the first of two meetings between the Bandits and the Wings the next two weeks. Buffalo and Philadelphia played back in Week 2, with Buffalo winning 9-6.
Buffalo’s John Tavares will have the chance to score his 700th goal on Saturday against Philadelphia, and if he does, he will be the only NLL player ever to reach that mark. He currently sits at 699.
Colorado Mammoth at Boston Blazers: Saturday, Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m. EST
The Boston Blazers will be the first team to hit the halfway point of their schedule, as they’ll host the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday in their eighth game of the season.
Boston (4-3) is coming off two big wins: a 16-7 beat down on Rochester on Jan. 29 and a 9-7 victory over the first-place Toronto Rock last week.
“We are feeling good about ourselves right now, obviously the two wins against Rochester and Toronto,” said Boston head coach Matt Sawyer. “We felt that the Toronto game was our most complete performance in all areas.”
The Mammoth, who are on a three-game losing streak, have had opportunity after opportunity to get victories in all of their losses, but each time they weren’t able to finish strong in the fourth quarter.
“We don’t think that we are that far away,” said Colorado head coach Bob Hamley on winning some games. “We’ve had some real tight games, we out-shot Washington (last week) and we did some good things on Saturday, but we just didn’t finish. We hope to get that corrected and get some wins on our side.”
The Mammoth (1-4) and the Blazers will meet one more time after this Saturday’s contest, on Mar. 26 in Denver.
Minnesota Swarm at Rochester Knighthawks: Saturday, Feb. 12, 7:35 p.m. EST
The Rochester Knighthawks finally earned their first home win of the season, now they’ll be looking to make it two in a row at Blue Cross Arena.
Rochester (3-2) had lost its first two games at home, but the offense and defense came out to play last week against Philadelphia, with the Knighthawks winning 11-6.
In the game, goaltender Matt Vinc finished with 33 saves on only 39 shots while Jordan Hall played great in his first contest as a Knighthawk, scoring three times while also grabbing one assist.
Hall’s performance was enough for him to be named the league’s Week 5 Transition Player of the Week.
“Jordan was really good,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen, who will be inducted into the Knighthawk Hall of Fame as a player on Feb. 19. “It is what we have been waiting for. He made opportunities for other guys and when he had his, he buried them.”
The Knighthawks will look to improve to 4-2 on the season when they host the Minnesota Swarm on Saturday.
Minnesota (3-2) dropped out of first place in the Western Division and ended its three-game winning streak after losing to Buffalo last week. However with a win in Rochester and a Calgary loss, the Swarm could fly their way back into the top spot in the division.
The trip to Rochester will be the end of a two-game road trip for the Swarm. Minnesota will return home to face Boston on Feb. 19 before it heads back out on the road for a three-game trip.
Saturday’s game between Minnesota and Rochester and all six NLL Week 6 games will be broadcasted live on the NLL Network at NLL.com. Some blackouts may apply.
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