Going into the 2015 NLL season, the Calgary Roughnecks had never started a season with three straight losses. But this year they went 0-6 before finally earning a win against the Vancouver Stealth.
Now 1-7 after their fourth one-goal loss of the year—a 12-11 defeat at the hands of the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend—one of the winningest franchises in league history is in dead last and 3.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Considering the Roughnecks came up just a goal shy of winning the Champion's Cup last season (to the aforementioned Knighthawks), and considering that Calgary's roster looked as good or better for 2015 than they did last year, the sudden reversal of fortune is nothing short of shocking.
The reasons for this year's slump aren't too hard to pin down; too many penalties, poor impulse control, defensive lapses and mediocre goaltending have resulted in too many goals against and the inability to generate consistent offensive momentum.
On the penalty front, they are averaging 6.5 shorthanded situations per game, compared to a league average of just 4.8 per game. That's nearly a quarter per game that the Riggers are spending killing penalties.
Dane Dobbie, who potted an NLL-best 51 goals in 2014, is currently serving a two-game suspension following a high sicking major and match penalty late in Calgary's 13-9 loss to the Vancouver Stealth on Feb. 14. Dobbie's act of frustration was followed moments later by defenseman Garrett McIntosh taking an elbowing major.
Losing a key piece like Dobbie for two games—and having McIntosh then do something equally foolish—speaks volumes to the way the Roughnecks have been letting the adversity of the season get to them.
Goalies Mike Poulin and Frankie Scigliano have needed to step up and be the stars on the team while the team has struggled with composure, but unfortunately that hasn't happened.
Poulin, who won the NLL Goaltender of the Year award in 2012, is in the middle of the worst year of his career. His bloated 15.06 goals-against average is the second-worst in the league among qualified netminders, and his .651 save percentage is far and away the worst among the same group.
Scigliano has started the last five games after Poulin's poor opening to the season. He has posted a 13.42 GAA, a .736 save percentage and has Calgary's only win. But those numbers are only good enough to put Scigliano ninth in league GAA and save percentage.
Watching games this year, it looks to me like opposing players are getting far too many good looks at the net, putting Poulin and Scigliano in a bad spot having to deal with unchecked shooters, but when the Roughnecks have most needed them to come up huge they haven't been able to deliver.
And the vaunted Roughnecks offense? After leading the league in goals for over the last two years, they're currently sixth in goals for, with 99. Of course, if you're spending a quarter of every game killing penalties, it will slow down a team's offense, but this power outage among a unit that is virtually unchanged from last year is surprising.
After the last loss, head coach Curt Malawsky still sounded upbeat, in spite of taking their seventh loss in eight tries. Malawsky said, via calgaryroughnecks.com, "The guys battled, they competed. We had a tough start and we didn’t quit."
He went on to add, "It’s going to turn around... We’ve just got to keep believing in the process and sticking with it and staying the course. I think these guys are really doing that. Going forward, we’re only going to be better for it."
There are still a few reasons for Malawsky's optimism.
Forward Shawn Evans is currently third in league scoring, with 60 points. He is well on the way to his third straight 100-point season and hasn't seemed to be hampered by the rest of the team's offensive slow-down. If he can continue to feed his teammates and provide scoring opportunities for snipers like Dobbie (16 goals) and Curtis Dickson (26 goals, third in the NLL), the offense should get back on track.
Geoff Snider is still giving the Roughnecks plenty of opportunities to keep rolling. The all-time leader in faceoff wins is once again leading the NLL, winning 67.8 percent of his draws. Snider is an intense player who also has a reputation for spending a lot of time in the sin bin (30 penalty minutes so far this year; sixth-most in the NLL); he needs to stick to disciplined play and helping his team out on the floor.
As a team, things have looked better in the last two games. They've scored 27 goals in that time while surrendering only 25 goals against. In only one other two-game stretch this year have they scored that many goals—they scored 30 times in their first two games of the year—and they haven't held teams to only 25 goals in any other two-game stretch in 2015.
It will still be a very tough climb, though. Last year in the NLL it took eight wins to make the playoffs and things look to be stacking up the same way again this season. That means Calgary needs to go at least 7-3 in their final 10 games, which is an awfully tall order for a team that took seven weeks to get their first victory.
Calgary's next opportunity to get back on track is later today, March 8, when they visit the Edmonton Rush (4-3) who are currently in first place in the West Division. If the Roughnecks hope to get back into the playoff hunt, it is games like this one that they will need to win.
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