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When looking at the 2017-18 seasons for both the Toronto Rock and the Calgary Roughnecks, you couldn’t find a more opposite image.
The Rock’s offense is as dominant as ever.
The Roughnecks just can’t seem to buy a victory.
It is an all-Canadian matchup on Saturday, Feb. 3 when the Roughnecks (1-5) make their only trip to the Air Canada Centre to face the Rock (4-2).
For the Rock, their 0-2 start seems like a distant memory. Now looking for their fifth straight win, Toronto has baffled teams with its offensive prowess, scoring 82 goals over their four-game winning streak.
The offense has been so strong that even long-time Rock captain Colin Doyle weighed in on Twitter during Toronto’s 21-9 pounding of the New England Black Wolves last Saturday.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen an offense as fluid as this version of the Toronto Rock,” the veteran tweeted during the game.
Impressive performances by offense and defense
The Rock’s deadly offense is led by three of the NLL’s top four scorers: Adam Jones (45 pts – 1st), Tom Schreiber (43 pts – 2nd) and Rob Hellyer (38 pts – 4th). With 100 goals in the first six games, Toronto leads the league in offensive production.
“It’s gone pretty well with our team over the last few weeks,” Schreiber said in a post-game scrum. “We are getting more and more comfortable. That was our focus early on when we were struggling. We have the right guys. Let’s not panic.”
As good as the offense has been for head coach Matt Sawyer’s squad, the defense and goaltending have been just as impressive. Toronto has limited opponents to under 10 goals in each of the last three games and goaltender Nick Rose has an impressive 8.33 goals-against average during that span coupled with a .827 save percentage.
Despite the success, Sawyer still thinks his backend can be better.
“We liked our performance in our last game [against New England],” Sawyer said. “But I thought, at points, we were struggling. New England had a lot of repeat possessions. We were sucking wind a little bit there. Hopefully that is because we came out of a bye week. We expect to be better [against Calgary.]”
‘A downward spiral”
For the Roughnecks, the losses have mounted and the team is mired in a four-game losing streak. Despite the poor record, the Roughnecks sit in third in the West Division. Only the league-worst Vancouver Stealth (1-6) have a lower record.
Calgary’s only win this season came against the Stealth on Dec. 15 – the second game of the season.
“When you have a sub .500 record, there is a tendency to just keep staring at it,” Calgary head coach Curt Malawsky told NLL.com. “You try and figure out ways to get back to .500. You just end up in a downward spiral. Over the last few years, we’ve had a few sub .500 seasons. We just need to play the game ahead of us. That’s our message. Just trying to get better.”
If there are any positives for the Roughnecks during their losing streak, it is that they have played with some of the NLL’s best. Calgary has kept it close over their last two games against the defending champion Georgia Swarm (15-12 L) and the West Division leading Saskatchewan Rush (13-12 OTL).
“What’s going wrong here?”
In the game against the Rush, Calgary trailed 10-4 at halftime but surprised the Rush with a strong second half, outscoring Saskatchewan 8-2 to force overtime.
“When you struggle out of the gate, it is second nature to second guess yourself,” Malawsky said. “When things aren’t going well in the room, guys start to speculate. ‘What’s going on? What’s going wrong here?’ But the way it went against the Rush, the guys continue to believe. Being down 10-4 [and battling back], that really solidified our belief that we have the right guys.”
If there is one area of weakness that Calgary could exploit in Toronto’s game, it’s the penalty kill. The Rock continue to stay in the league’s basement while a man down, killing off just 34% of power-play opportunities. But Toronto helped itself by staying disciplined on Saturday against the Black Wolves, just taking one penalty.
“It’s an area we want to improve on,” Sawyer explained. “Penalty kill hasn’t been a strength. We challenge our players on both ends of the floor not to take penalties. It happens – the slashing or the holding. It’s just part of being aggressive but we are working on getting better.”