Toronto's Patrick Merrill being chased by a Philadelphia player. (Photo Credit: Todd Bauders.)
The Toronto Rock put any talk of a post-championship hangover to rest on Saturday night, dominating the Philadelphia Wings 15-6 at the Wells Fargo Center.
The win was Toronto’s third straight after an 0-2 start, and puts the Rock in first place in the East Division.
Rock forward Josh Sanderson, the reigning NLL Offensive Player of the Week, had a hat trick and three assists by halftime.
With Toronto leading 6-5 early in the second quarter, Sanderson reeled off three straight goals to put the Rock ahead for good. He finished with six assists and nine points.
Without team captain Colin Doyle (calf) and Blaine Manning (broken collarbone), Toronto needed some other players to step up on offense. Stephan Leblanc had four goals and two assists and Garrett Billings had eight assists and nine points to pace the Rock attack.
“It’s not just Colin, it’s also Blaine Manning,” Leblanc said. “They inspire us. They’ve been on this team forever and to see how much they still want to be in every game, it’s given us inspiration to work harder.”
Leblanc said the Rock players had a little extra incentive this week.
“Coming into Philly, we brought all of our fathers in, we wanted to get a win and make this a special occasion,” he said.
Toronto absolutely dominated the second half, shutting out the Wings while scoring six straight goals. The Rock’s defense was opportunistic and goaltender Matt Roik was stellar in stopping 38 of 44 shots.
“I think the defense tonight dictated where the shots would be from, and it was easy for me to set up,” Roik said. “When the goalie has time to set up, it should be a good night for him. It starts with the defense, which was incredible tonight. It was fun to play behind them.”
The Wings (2-2) had their chances on offense, but were off the mark with an alarming number of shots. After Dan Dawson cut the lead the 9-7 in the second quarter, Kevin Crowley darted into the middle with 30 seconds left on the clock and beat Roik only to hit the post.
That was the story of the night for Philadelphia, who totaled 21 shots off target.
“We have to bury our chances when we get them,” Dawson said. “We have to bear down. It starts with me - I was terrible tonight finishing the ball. I shot the ball horribly.”
Dawson’s goal would be the last of the night for Philadelphia. While the Wings’ offense at times looks potent, long scoring droughts have become a concern. Toronto held the Wings scoreless for about 32 minutes to close out the game.
“Scoreless in a half of lacrosse is unacceptable and that one is on the offense,” Dawson added. “For us I think it was our execution. We had some shots but Matt Roik played very well. The bottom line is we got outworked and outplayed and that is unacceptable.
“When they run you out of your own building like that, it’s pretty embarrassing.”
Dawson finished with a goal and an assist. No Wings player had more than two points.
“We couldn’t catch our breath. Our collective intelligence wasn’t there,” said Philadelphia head coach Johnny Mouradian. “We got down, couldn’t catch our breath, and we had a lot of guys on offense pressing, trying to turn the ball around on their own. That just doesn’t work.”
Mouradian was complimentary of Toronto’s defensive effort, but at the same time, thought that the Wings could have been more successful had they stuck to the game plan.
“Toronto’s defense was aggressive when we took the ball down the sides and got ourselves into trouble. They didn’t put us into trouble - we put ourselves into trouble,” he said.
After their third straight win, the Toronto locker room exuded the type of veteran demeanor that is typical of championship clubs. Both Leblanc and Roik said the club was not concerned after losing their opening two games.
“I don’t think we were worried,” Leblanc said. “We made a lot of changes over the offseason so we knew there would be an adjustment period, and we’re still adjusting.”
“It’s February. No championships are won in February,” Roik responded when asked if the team was clicking on all cylinders. “This is obviously a good start, but we have a long way to go.”
Philadelphia will look to bounce back at home against Buffalo next Sunday at 4 p.m. ET. The Rock won’t play until hosting a rematch with the Wings on February 18 at 7 p.m. ET.
Despite Saturday’s disappointing setback, Mouradian remains confident his rebuilt club can hang with the Rock.
“This is a two out of three series with Toronto. They’re up one game,” Mouradian said.