The Toronto Rock went down 3-0 within the first nine minutes – and would eventually go down 4-0 – versus the Colorado Mammoth tonight inside the Air Canada Centre. Despite a fighting effort to chip away at the Mammoth lead, and even tie the match at one point, the Rock were never able to overcome the deficit and lost 11-7 to extend their home losing streak to four games.
The opening quarter has usually been the best 15 minutes of game time for the Rock this season. Their +17 goal differential coming into tonight’s match was their best of any quarter this year. Tonight, however, it was one of their worst. Before this match against the Mammoth, the Rock had scored less than three goals in the first quarter once; today was the second time – they finished with a -3 goal differential in the period.
Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward had a lot to do with that as he stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first. It was only the third time in any quarter all season the Rock were held scoreless in a period.
The Mammoth, on the other hand, did not lay an Easter egg in the opening frame. They collected a goal each from Eli McLaughlin, Ryan Benesch, and Zack Greer. McLaughlin’s assist on Greer’s goal gave him 100 assists in his four-year career.
It took nearly 18 minutes, but the Rock finally scored their first goal of the night off the stick of defenseman Latrell Harris. You would not have guessed it, but a non-forward scoring would be the theme, and ultimately the downfall, for the Rock on this night.
The Rock were able to craw their way back into the ballgame after breaking the seal. The strung together three goals to cut the Mammoth lead back to one before Stephen Keogh scored his first of the night to bring the Mammoth to two goals once more before halftime.
The third quarter was filled with off-the-turf action that included a lengthy shot clock malfunction and a video review that was ultimately upheld, but that didn’t stop the Rock from making a serious run at the lead despite being outshot 16-8 in the frame.
Harris scored his second goal of the night, and his second off the face-off draw, less than 30 seconds into the second half. The Mammoth’s Ryan Benesch followed the 20-year-old’s score with his 30th goal of the year to become the first Mammoth player and the eighth NLL player to hit that milestone this season. It was back-to-back goals from defenseman Challen Rogers that finally tied the game up at 6-6 heading into the final 15 of the game.
The lack of offense from the forwards was overwhelming for the home team in the last moments of the game. Over the final 15 minutes, the Mammoth scored five goals to the Rock’s one, which was netted by transition player Brodie Merrill. The onslaught in the fourth allowed the Mammoth to pull away and eventually seal the 11-7 victory.
“I’m not sure if I’ve been part of a game like that when you go as dry as we did offensively,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said of his forwards not scoring a goal on the night. “Credit to our goaltending and defense to giving us an opportunity. There are times when you’re going to face difficulties like that, and you just have to hope that your teammates pick you up. They tried their best, but we need to be better on offense.”
The Rock cannot afford to lose many more games – if any – if they want to lock up a playoff spot. Their next three games and three of their last four contests are against East Division rivals. With four teams currently tied for the top spot, with the New England Black Wolves half a game behind, anything can happen.
“You need to look at what we did there and try and make improvements as a coaching staff and as a team and also as individuals and as players,” Sawyer said of the important stretch of games to finish the regular season. “We need to get to a point where we’re consistent here. We’re too Jekyll & Hyde upfront; one game on, two games on, one game off. Having said all that, we’re facing three Eastern opponents here and it’s all in our hands, it’s just a matter of what we want to do with it.”
With the return of superstar Tom Schreiber possible this coming week, the Rock could get the spark plug to their offense back just in time. We’ll see what the Rock decide to make of their future starting next week on Sunday, April 8th at 4:05 pm EST versus the Georgia Swarm on the road.