After being challenged this week by their general manager and head coach Derek Keenan, the Edmonton Rush (5-4) answered the call by dominating the Vancouver Stealth (4-5) with a 19-7 home win at Rexall Place, and now sit alone atop the West Division.
“The challenge was ‘let’s go back to being a tenacious team, to putting that compete level to the highest that we can,'” Keenan said postgame. “And I think we did tonight, we really answered the bell.”
The Stealth scored 21 goals against the Minnesota Swarm last week, but could not reproduce that success against Edmonton’s physical defense.
“Offensively, we didn’t adjust to their pressure,” said Stealth head coach Dan Perreault. “Edmonton came at us hard defensively, they pressured us and we played on our heels. We turned the ball over far too many times and basically you just look at our shots on net, we weren’t getting any quality shots on net at all.”
Though the Stealth has showed they can put the ball in the net, they have allowed 20 goals in a game twice this season and now one 19-goal game after Saturday night’s contest.
“We have to look defensively, we have to improve, because obviously you can’t give up that many goals and expect to win games in this league,” Perreault added.
The Rush defense found its form early, holding Vancouver to just five shots in the first quarter. On offense, the Rush cut through the offensive zone with speed, not allowing the Vancouver defense to track them very well. Tyler Melnyk opened the scoring with his first NLL goal on his first shift in the pros.
“My first shift there, no one came and picked me up, I couldn’t believe it,” said Melnyk. “I was just standing there pretty much on the crease, 1-on-0 with the goalie. After that, obviously, I got a couple lucky bounces go my way. Beginners luck I guess!”
The Rush led 4-1 after getting a goal from Ben McIntosh and two from Mark Matthews. Joel McCready scored Vancouver’s only goal of the first frame.
It only took 30 seconds of the second before Rhys Duch scored to give the stealth their second goal. The Rush regained its two-goal lead when Jeremy Thompson scored his fourth of the season moving up the ball on the power play. Chris Corbeil followed that with a shorthanded goal, and Zack Greer scored his first of the night giving the Rush a 7-2 lead. Tyler Digby and Ilija Gajic scored back to back bringing the Stealth within three. The comeback wasn’t about to start there as Edmonton ended the half with goals from Church and Melnyk.
The first career game for Melnyk continued to be eventful as he registered his first NLL hat trick. Edmonton’s offensive onslaught continued with goals from Matthews, and Thompson before Justin Salt stopped the bleeding; however, the Rush kept up the pressure. Conway, Matthews, and Chris Corbeil all scored giving the Rush a 16-5 lead. At the end of the third quarter, the Stealth had only put up 23 shots on goal.
Melnyk scored to open three of the game’s four quarters and the fourth was one, scoring his fourth of the game and his career to give the Rush a 12-goal lead. Melnyk finished his professional game with five points (4+1).
“It’s nice to have [Melnyk],” Keenan said. “Riley Loewen is banged up right now, and you’ve got a kid who has worked really hard in practice over the week, comes in doesn’t say a lot, just minds his own business, does his work, you get him in and he scores four. It’s pretty special. He’s a good player. He can play obviously so it’s great to have that kind of depth.”
Corey Small, who lead his team in shots with 11, scored his first against his new team to give the Stealth their first of the quarter. Rhys Duch scored right after on Tyler Carlson who saw some time at the end of the game.
This was a record-breaking game for the Rush. In assisting Ben McIntosh’s goal, Mark Matthews set a franchise record for most points in a game with nine (4+5). Robert Church’s marker after that gave them 19, another franchise record.
“I thought we executed our offense really well, said Keenan. “We asked them to move the ball better, move the ball more, work harder in terms of their through-the-middle play, and we worked middle-out a lot, and we had success with it.”
The Rush out-shot the Stealth 65-36, the numbers that best tell the story of this game.
Rhys Duch led the Stealth with five points (2+3), while Corey Small had three points (1+2) against his former squad.
Edmonton goaltender Aaron Bold stopped 22 of the 28 shots he faced for a .786 save percentage.
Key West Division matchups continue for the Stealth with its next two games against the Colorado Mammoth. For Edmonton, next week holds a visit to Toronto to face the league-leading Rock on Saturday live on TSN3 & WatchESPN.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Tyler Melnyk
2) Mark Matthews
3) Jeremy Thompson
Story by Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Dale MacMillan.