Teams made their opponents pay with special teams play in Week #5 of the 2013 NLL regular season. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
While Sunday’s big football game was overshadowed by a blackout, the power play was the talk of the National Lacrosse League this past weekend as four Saturday night games highlighted Week #5 of the 2013 NLL regular season.
The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks (1-3) earned their first win of the year in a record-setting defensive battle, the Calgary Roughnecks (3-2) and Toronto Rock (5-1) took control of their divisions by beating their rivals on the road, and the Colorado Mammoth (2-2) got back to .500 with a convincing victory at home.
The Knighthawks avenged their season-opening loss with a 7-6 home win over the Washington Stealth (3-3) at The Blue Cross Arena. Rochester’s seven goals tied the all-time record for fewest goals scored by a winning team in NLL history.
“It wasn’t pretty but the defense played an outstanding game,’’ Knighthawks forward Joe Walters told the Rochester D&C.
“Six goals on 48 shots – wow, that's not enough,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall told the Everett Herald. Our power play needs work. It's right around 30 percent and it's got to get better.”
In a game where goals came at a premium, Washington’s head coach expressed his frustration about giving up a costly shorthanded goal early on.
“The first power play of the game? It was inexcusable,” Hall said. “I don't know how much more we can emphasize that we can't give those up. It's a straight-up lack of effort."
There was no lack of effort in the “Battle of Alberta” between the Roughnecks and Edmonton Rush (1-3), as the teams traded goals and leads throughout Calgary’s 18-15 road win at Rexall Place.
“It was up and down back and forth, there were points in the game where it was anybody’s to take,” Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan told the Edmonton Journal. “We fought right to the very end.”
In the end, it was the power play that made the difference, as Calgary went 3-for-3 with the extra man while Edmonton, who entered the game with the league's best power play, went just 1-for-7.
“We gave it away,” Keenan said. “The end result was…their special teams were better than ours. That’s what the game came down to.”
Special teams were especially important in the Rock’s 14-12 road win over the Buffalo Bandits (3-2) at First Niagara Center. Toronto took advantage of some untimely penalties by Buffalo by scoring four times with the man advantage, twice more on delayed penalties, to stay atop the East Division standings.
“This is one of the dumbest teams around,” Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour told the Buffalo News. “You can’t take penalties against these guys, and we had two five-minute majors.”
The Bandits, who were without their captain John Tavares due to a calf injury, allowed his Rock counterpart Colin Doyle to foil their fourth-quarter comeback with two shorthanded goals. Earlier in the game, Doyle scored a behind-the-back goal that made #5 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays, the second-consecutive weekend that the NLL has made an appearance on ESPN.
“What Colin’s done in this game is like what John Tavares can do,” said Rock head coach Troy Cordingley. “When the game is on the line, he will take his team to a win. That’s why they are elite players.”
Speaking of elite players, 2012 NLL MVP John Grant, Jr. was the most valuable player in the Mammoth’s 15-9 home win against the Minnesota Swarm (1-3) at Pepsi Center as “Junior” had five goals and 11 points (5+6) to help them rebound from their blowout loss to Calgary the week before.
Colorado went 4-for-5 on the power play with help from Grant, Jr. who scored three special teams goals, including one on a penalty shot.
“We made a point on how terrible we played last week holding the ball, and I was one of the biggest culprits,” Grant, Jr. told NLL.com. “This week, I focused on just trying to feed the ball and if I was getting some shots, hopefully I would put them in.”
Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley had to put in his newly-signed goaltender Dan Lewis after starting goalie Matt Roik was ejected from the game for an equipment violation.
“I noticed that he had what I deemed to be an 'add-on' to his right glove,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “The league provides brand new gloves every year and that looked like it was an older glove. We typically wouldn’t make that call but we were down by five [goals].”
“I didn’t agree with it but we will see what happens this week with the league,” said Hamley about the ejection. “It was a tough call. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt us.”
In a competitive league rich with parity, poor special teams play can hurt your chances for a win. Maybe it really is a game of “box lacrosse” after all.