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High-scoring Roughnecks ready for defensive Knighthawks

04/09/2013, 10:20am EDT
By NLL.com's Knighthawks beat writer Travis Larner and Roughnecks beat writer Jessica Elverum

NLL's top-rated offense faces league's best defense with playoff implications

The Calgary Roughnecks (8-6) host the Rochester Knighthawks (6-7) at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday at 9pm ET. (Photo: Ward LaForme)

Still in the mix to host home playoff games, the Calgary Roughnecks (8-6) play the visiting Rochester Knighthawks (6-7), who look to clinch a postseason berth this weekend, at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky expects a hard-fought game against the Knighthawks with plenty at stake playoffs-wise for both teams.

“We are up against a very well-coached team, a world-class goaltender, and I’ve been watching some tape on them this week and they don’t have a lot of holes out there," he said. "They work extremely hard and we are going to have to come out and match that compete level. It’s going to be a true battle.

“We are excited to play a team from the East Division, we have played a lot of the Western teams and we are excited to see someone we aren’t too familiar with. Hopefully it will be a great game on both ends of the floor for us.”

Specifically, Malawsky is looking for his guys to address the discipline issue that has been a problem since the beginning of the season. It is especially important as they are nearing the playoffs and playing against a dynamic team.

“I talk about [Rochester] being a very hardworking team and it starts from the goaltender out,” Malawsky said. “Their defense is extremely hard working. When the ball is on the floor, they get two or three guys on that loose ball and they secure it and they don’t make mistakes. They box out very well and you get nothing for free. If our guys are going to want to pay the price, they are going to have to get to the middle of the floor and hopefully they are willing to do that after last weekend.”

Last weekend, Calgary dropped a tightly-contested 12-11 decision to the Washington Stealth (8-6) to create a three-way tie at the top of the West Division standings.

“We’ve moved past last weekend,” Malawsky said. “That was a tough game for us, we had it under control at the half, we came out in the second half and we made some errors where our emotional control got the best of some guys and in this league - in a one goal game league - you make a mistake and it ends up in the back of your net.”

Calgary hopes for a different fate this weekend as they try to stay atop the standings to clinch at least one postseason game at home.

“It [would be] huge to clinch a home playoff game for the fans for the ownership and for the players. We enjoy playing at home and just being together as a team,” said Roughnecks transition player Travis Cornwall. “It’s a big weekend against Rochester, obviously the defending champions and last year we went 1-1 against them, so we are just trying to prepare as best we can for the weekend.”

Rochester earned a weekend split with back-to-back games last weekend, defeating the Philadelphia Wings (6-8) by a score of 14-7 at home before losing 10-9 to Toronto as the game went down to the wire.

This weekend’s trip to Alberta, where they will also face the Edmonton Rush (8-6) on Sunday,  marks just the third time in franchise history that the Knighthawks play back-to-back games on consecutive weekends. History is not on their side as they have an 0-4 record in the second leg of those weekends.

“We know we’re going to be in for a real, real tough one this weekend,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “We just got to keep focusing on the one moment in front of us. Results happen by winning the little battles throughout the course of the game.”

If the Knighthawks are able to sweep both games in Alberta, they would not only lock up a spot in the postseason, but they would earn the second seed in the East Division. One win and a Buffalo loss would get them in as well. Rochester can clinch a first-round home playoff game with one win and a Buffalo loss to Washington and a Toronto win over Philadelphia.

Going up against Calgary and their top-ranked power play, Hasen faces one of his toughest challenges of the season. The defensive-minded coach, boasting the league’s best penalty kill, will have to draw up a game plan to stop the NLL’s highest scoring offense, led by former Knighthawks forward Shawn Evans.

“They have ‘Superman’ [Curtis] Dickson, who is great with the ball and can do a lot of things,” Hasen said. “[Evans] is a little fireplug that gets their offense clicking and shots the ball well, and picks up those loose balls.”

The Roughnecks are averaging 14 goals per game as Evans is second in the league with 92 points (28+64), already his career high. Dickson heads into Week #15 tied with John Grant, Jr. with a league-leading 38 goals while Calgary scorer Dane Dobbie isn’t far behind with 37.

While Calgary boosts the league’s top offense, Rochester still ranks first in defense. The Knighthawks allow a league-low 9.85 goals per game. Goaltender Matt Vinc ranks first among qualifying goaltenders with a 9.75 goals-against average and a .813 save percentage.

“We’re going to have our hands full here this weekend,” Hasen said. “We just got to make sure we stick to it. They’re going to get goals and we know it’s going to come. It’s forgetting what just happened and looking forward to the next little moment. If we can do that and not get rattled by their runs, and stop their runs that they’re going to get, we’ll be good.”

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