The Saskatchewan Rush have won eight straight regular-season games against the Vancouver Warriors. However, a ninth victory in a row might just be the most important of any of them.
After falling last weekend at home to the Toronto Rock, the West Division-leading Rush sport a dumbfounding 1-3 record on their home turf at SaskTel Centre. That fact is not sitting well with the entire team, especially considering that they lead big leads slip away in two of those games – the loss to the Rock and a January setback against Colorado. The Warriors, who sit last in the West, pay a visit to Saskatoon on Saturday night.
“We under-estimated them,” said Rush defenseman Ryan Dilks after the loss to Toronto. “We think it’s going to be easy (playing at home), but teams are coming at us with their best efforts and outworking us.”
The Rush have re-established themselves as one of the league’s toughest defenses to play against, in large due to the return of Dilks and Jeff Cornwall to the lineup. Both sat out last season due to work commitments. With Kyle Rubisch having yet another All-Pro campaign, the defense is doing its part. If the offense can catch up, the Rush will have something going on. The Rush scored just two goals and mustered only 20 shots in a dreadful second half against Toronto.
“Too many passengers on offence. Only two goals on 5-on-5, that’s not good enough,” said Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan of his forwards group. “They didn’t compete hard enough. All the things that we had started to do right over the past three weeks, they were gone. We’ve got to be better.”
Despite their mysteriously underwhelming home record, there’s still a lot of reason to think the Rush are amongst the high-end contenders heading towards the NLL Cup playoffs.
“Halfway through this year compared to last year, I’d say we’re in a much better position,” said Keenan. “We’re better defensively, we’re getting better goaltending, and we’re healthy. We’ve got a lot of better days ahead of us.
“Last year, there were too many unknowns. This year, we’ve got a lot more confidence, but we know we have to play better more consistently. I feel good about this lineup.”
The Warriors, meanwhile, have let a promising start to the season fall by the wayside. They have lost three in a row, including last weekend’s home-turf setback against Georgia, and have scored a total of just 24 goals in that span.
A lack of goals (12th in the league with an average of just 9.2 goals per game) and an abundance of penalties have plagued the Warriors. Vancouver leads the NLL with 193 penalty minutes, has the two leading individuals in the penalty minute department (Matt Beers and Owen Barker each with 43 PIM), and has a league-leading seven major penalties. Not helping matters is the fact the Warriors have surrendered a league-high seven shorthanded goals.