The Warriors pursuit of their first win streak fell short on Saturday night when the Saskatchewan Rush pulled out a 15-13 victory at Rogers Arena. The Rush victory snapped their three-game losing skid to avoid what would have become their longest losing streak since 2011.
From the onset, the Warriors looked as though they were continuing where they left off in San Diego. The ball was zipping around the floor on offence, defenders were cracking down on defence and goaltender Eric Penney was making the saves that needed to be made. The high-scoring 5-4 tally at the end of the 1st quarter didn’t reflect how well both back-ends played in the first 15 minutes, but the defensive efforts forced both sides to step their games up on offence which led to some well-constructed goals.
Much like the 1st quarter, the rest of the game showed two even-matched teams that refused to let one side pull away. At no point in the contest did either side lead by more than two goals and neither team strung together more than three goals in a row. Warriors head coach Chris Gill was pleased with his team’s effort and continued progression, they just couldn’t take advantage of certain situations down the stretch.
“We tried grinding out a win against one of the best teams in the league,” said Gill. Unfortunately, we couldn’t put the ball in the net when we had some really good looks at the end.”
“Our defence was good, our offence was good, our goaltending was good, but at the end of the day, they were just a little bit better than us.”
Much like the game in San Diego, there was plenty of physical, focused individual and team efforts on defence. Often players were seen giving no room to Rush players in possession and the guys were creating double-teams to force the Rush to make an extra pass or two.
Four-goal performances from both Jordan McBride and Mitch Jones fuelled the offence. Justin Salt added two goals and an assist, Keegan Bal kept up his impressive point-getting adding five more tonight (one goal and four assists) and Tony Malcom set a career-best in assists with five. It wasn’t enough, though, as Adam Shute (who replaced Evan Kirk in net tonight for the Rush) and the Rush defence made a few key stops in the final minutes of the contest.
Bal notes that the Warriors need to start winning a few close games in the latter half of the season if they want to make a run at the playoffs. So far in 2019, the Warriors are 2-4 in games decided by three goals.
“We’ve had a few games like this throughout the year,” said Bal. “We’ve been close, but unfortunately close isn’t good enough.”
For better or for worse, the Warriors now have their first week off since the season began in December to prepare for their next game. They’ll be back in San Diego facing against the Seals on March 2nd. Coach Gill believes that his team will use the time wisely to reflect on what they could’ve done better in their missed opportunities as the win slipped away.
“After a loss, you wanna go out there and play,” said Gill. “But, this is a good time for us to reflect and get away from [the loss] and then get ready and get back to work next week.”
Despite the loss, working in the Warriors favour is the uber-competitiveness of the West Division. After Saturday night, the Warriors are only two games behind the Rush, Seals and Calgary Roughneck who lead the West with .500 records even though the Warriors currently sit in last place. This isn’t lost on anyone on the team and there is still plenty of optimism with eight games remaining on the schedule.
“The West Division this year is wide open,” said Bal. “I think we have to focus on our second half of the year, win as many games as we can so we can control our own destiny and that means winning these close games.”
With the time off, the Warriors should be refreshed and ready to go when they face the Seals in two weeks time. Repeating an effort like their first trip to San Diego would be an ideal way to bounce back from this loss and get the team back in the win column.