While one offence continues to roll, the other is left still searching for answers.
And not surprisingly, the team which seems to have no problem finding the back of the net is 8-1 on the season and the other is the opposite, at 1-8.
The Saskatchewan Rush are the former and the Vancouver Stealth are the latter.
And on Saturday night, it was the visiting Rush racing out to a 6-0 lead in what turned out to be a 16-9 win in National Lacrosse League action at the Langley Events Centre.
The game marked the jersey retirement ceremony of former captain Curtis Hodgson, who called it a career after 13 seasons with the Stealth organization, this past October.
The team, in celebration of the upcoming Family Day holiday, even had the players’ families join them on the floor during the pre-game ceremony.
And while it should have been the home side fired up after watching their former teammate honoured and their loved ones by their side, it was the Saskatchewan visitors who took charge early and left little doubt to the outcome of the game.
“We knew we had to be ready because we were playing a desperate team that was going to come at you and I thought we responded well,” said Saskatchewan head coach and general manager Derek Keenan.
The Rush scored a six-pack in the opening 15 minutes, including goals from Robert Church and Curtis Knight 39 seconds apart in the opening 2:33.
Mark Matthews tacked on two more before Matthew Dinsdale and Church capped off the dominant quarter.
The first quarter continued a troubling trend for the Stealth — in nine games this season, they have been outscored 42-15. The -27 goal differential is by far the worst in the NLL as no other team has a negative goal differential in the double digits (Calgary is second worst at -7).
“If you are putting yourself in a hole against any team in this league, it is tough to dig out of it,” said Corey Small.
“That is what has caused us to play that helter-skelter, un-smart lacrosse. We are trying to force things when we are down, taking shots we wouldn’t normally take.”
“We are not giving ourselves a fair chance when we are down six goals early.”
Stealth head coach Jamie Batley says the team has tried different things, switching up their preparation and pre-game habits in hopes of snapping out of it.
“Maybe we are gripping our sticks and afraid to make mistakes and and we are not playing with an edge in the first quarter,” he said.
“We can’t play to lose the first and that is what we are doing. We are nervous, we don’t want to make mistakes, you can’t play like that.
“You need to play on the edge and if you make a mistake, you make a mistake. I don’t mind if guys make mistakes if they are trying to do something constructive.”
It is similar to last season when Vancouver lost their first four games and Batley talked about how it was weighing on the players’ minds.
Once they finally won at the LEC, the Stealth won three of their next four home games to finish the regular season with a 4-5 home record.
So far this season, Vancouver is 0-4 at the LEC.
In Saturday’s game, James Rahe got the home side on the board 3:31 into the second quarter but the Rush took an 11-3 lead into the locker room, thanks to goals from Jeff Shattler, Ben McIntosh, Church’s third, and one from Chris Corbell.
Cliff Smith and Tony Malcom countered for the Stealth in the frame.
One small bright spot for the Stealth was the fact they outscored the Rush 6-5 in the second half with Logan Schuss scoring a pair while Brandon Clelland, Pat Saunders and Tyson Roe had one goal apiece.
Roe’s tally was his first NLL goal while Saunders was making his Stealth debut after being acquired from Buffalo. Saunders also had three assists for the four-point game.
Schuss also had a pair of helpers to finish with four points and Small had three assists.
The Vancouver offence is averaging just 10 goals per game and the players know they won’t win many games when they struggle just to crack double digits.
“In this league, 13, 14 is that magic number — if as an offence you aren’t scoring above 10, you don’t have a shot to win in this league,” Small said. “We need myself and Duch to get going over here. We have to look in the mirror and watch some more film and see what we are doing wrong.”
Over the last two full seasons, Duch has scored 86 goals and Small has tallied 83. So far this season those numbers are down to 13 for Small and six for Duch.
That also includes both players failing to score in four of nine games this season, compared to 2017 when Duch found the back of the net in each of the 17 games he played while Small was held scoreless in just one of 18 contests.
Vancouver has just two players in the top 30 for scoring with Small (13 goals, 30 points) ninth and Logan Schuss (21 goals, 40 points) 12th.
“It is definitely not a lack of effort because you can see guys coming off the floor and they are dog tired. It is working smart rather than working hard,” Small said.
“Some bad habits, not moving our feet and making the defence work off ball, and when we are getting out shots, we are not hitting them. They are hitting the goalie a lot in the centre mass, in the stick, instead of along the pipes.”
While Vancouver struggles to score, Saskatchewan continues to roll.
The Rush were led by their multi-faceted attack as four players had two or more goals and nine had two or more points.
Church (three goals, five assists), Knight (four goals, one assist), McIntosh (three goals, one assist), Matthews (two goals, two assists), Shattler (one goal, three assists) and Dinsdale (one goal, three assists) led the way offensively. Corbell and Matt Hossack had a goal apiece and Ryan Keenan had four assists.
“That is kind of what we do. We don’t rely on one guy for goals or points, we get contributions from our back end as well,” Keenan said. “We spread things around and it makes it tough for teams to defend us.”
Evan Kirk made 38 saves for the victory in the Saskatchewan goal.
For Vancouver, Eric Penney was pulled after allowing five goals on a dozen shots. Brodie MacDonald came in and made 31 saves on 42 shots.
Batley said his team could have benefited from a big save but was also quick to not pin the blame on his goaltending as the sole reason for the loss, either.
Next up for the Stealth is a huge game Feb. 16 in Calgary as the Roughnecks have won two games in a row and at 3-5 could bury Vancouver’s fading playoff chances even more.