The Toronto Rock beat the Rochester Knighthawks with an 11-7 road win at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night as the defending champions remain winless in 2013. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The Rochester Knighthawks dropped their third consecutive game to start the 2013 National Lacrosse League season, their worst start to a year since they opened with an 0-4 record in 2009.
The Knighthawks (0-3) were on the losing end of an 11-7 contest against the Toronto Rock (4-1) on Saturday night at The Blue Cross Arena. Toronto’s defense, led by goaltender Nick Rose, limited Rochester’s offense to their lowest output of the season.
“Honestly, I am not sure [why we have the Knighthawks’ number],” Rose said. “It might have to do with our preparation. We know how good of a team they are so maybe we amp it up a little bit. But we just come in here with a good game plan and we executed tonight.”
Rose made 41 saves on 48 shots, outdueling his Rochester counterpart Matt Vinc, who finished with 32 stops on 42 shots.
“We ran into a hot goalie,” Knighthawks forward Cody Jamieson said. “We thought we got to him early. We came back and he got a little hot on us. We got to fight through that and we got to build through that adversity. Got to get better.”
Of Rochester’s seven goals, only two were scored on even-strength situations. The Knighthawks were 2-for-5 on the power play and netted three shorthanded goals. After tallying five points in the first half, Jamieson (3+2) was held scoreless over the final two quarters.
“They got a potent offense and we know that,” said Rock head coach Troy Cordingley. “At half, we talked about Cody. He was on fire with three goals and he was picking spots. We needed to pay more attention to him. I thought we did a really good job in the second half on ‘D.’”
The Rock took a big lead into the second quarter after a five-goal run in the first. Trailing 2-1 with less than four minutes remaining in the opening quarter, Stephan LeBlanc tied the game with a power-play goal. Less than 30 seconds later, former Knighthawks forward Scott Evans gave the Rock their first lead of the game. Garrett Billings and Kasey Beirnes each scored once to close the frame with a 5-2 advantage.
“I’d been here for seven years,” said Evans, the fourth-leading all-time scorer in Knighthawks history, who finished the night with three points (1+2). “I had a lot of big wins here and this was this first time coming into their building and beating them. It was a special one for me.”
The Knighthawks then netted four of the next five goals and tied the game before halftime. Cory Vitarelli scored a nifty goal with a leap from behind the back of the net, while defenseman Brad Self and Jamieson followed that up with two shorthanded goals 29 seconds apart to tie the game at 5-5.
“We take transition when we can,” Self said. “There were a few more opportunities tonight. Maybe they were a little bit tired. If they’re there, we take them. We got a couple [transition goals], but I think we still had a chance to bury a couple more. We can’t put it all on the offense.”
The lone goal for Rochester in the second half came from Vitarelli, who snuck a beautiful behind-the-back shot past Rose. Billings netted the game-winner 32 seconds into the fourth quarter. Josh Sanderson scored a pair of goals 26 seconds apart to put the game out of reach at 10-7 before Cam Woods iced it with an empty-netter.
“That’s been Toronto all year,” said Knighthawks defenseman Mike Kirk. “They’ve made a huge run every game. They’ve been out of some and come back to win. They never quit, but that’s on us to stop those runs.”
The Rock are now 8-1 against the Knighthawks over the last two seasons. With their win over Toronto in the East Division Final in last year’s playoffs an exception, Rochester has not been able to stop the Rock.
“They move the ball well and they run a defensive system that they trust,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “They got a goalie back there that they really do trust to stop the ball. They play well every time. We didn’t match them tonight.”
Despite the early season troubles, no one in the Rochester locker room seems worried.
“We’re 0-3, but in a couple of weeks, we could be 3-3,” Jamieson said. “In our dressing room, no one is hitting the panic button. It’s a long season, we’re three games in. There’s no need to write the season off. In our dressing room, we like our team. Why would we push the panic button when we know what we want and we like what we got?”
On the other hand, the Rock are now three games above the Knighthawks in the standings, sweeping their second back-to-back weekend of the season.
“I think we played better tonight than we did last night to be quite honest,” Cordingley said. “That’s a tough, tough weekend to do, but these guys pulled it off. They came to play today.”
The Rock travel to Buffalo next weekend for an East Division showdown at First Niagara Center on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Knighthawks return home for the third straight week, hosting the Washington Stealth in a rematch of the season opener on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.