A one-goal loss on the road isn’t especially troubling particularly for a team like the defending NLL champion Saskatchewan Rush.
And the Rush are far from pressing any sort of panic button, but they do want to smooth over some of the rough patches that created too many bumps in the game plan last weekend in a season-opening 12-11 loss to the New England Black Wolves.
They’ll certainly have the right atmosphere to make that happen this Saturday when they have their home-opener against the San Diego Seals before a presumably rowdy crowd at SaskTel Centre, one which will witness the Rush’s third league championship banner hoisted to the rafters prior to the opening faceoff.
“That was a winnable game and we had enough in the tank that we should have won,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. “But we played like a team that had not been together in 20 days. We were pretty rusty.”
A game under their belts – albeit a defeat – should have a noticeable effect on the Rush when it comes to game time against the Seals. First and foremost, the Rush will need a markedly better showing out of their offence. The Rush didn’t put a single goal in transition and their shooters as a whole were inconsistent. Thankfully, Saskatchewan’s power play produced four goals, but there’s a lot more that can be done especially on the run.
“I think we got our chances in transition, we just didn’t finish,” said Rush captain Chris Corbeil. “I had three or four shots and should have scored one or two. Jeremy Thompson had a couple chances, Matt Hossack had a couple.
“It’s encouraging that we got the chances, it’s just a matter of finishing them. I think you can chalk it up to being a bit rusty. We really hadn’t had sticks in our hands for three weeks. It’s nothing to panic about but it needs to be addressed.”
One area that seems to be on the verge of good things is the new-look Rush defence. After giving up four goals in the first quarter to New England, the revamped unit held the Wolves to only three goals the entire second half with home club needing a late power-play marker to stand up as the winner.
The Rush’s backline pillar of the past few seasons, widely regarded as the best defensive unit ever assembled in the NLL, featured two completely new players in Travis Cornwall and Jordi Jones-Smith as well as a pair who’ve gone from being depth players to every gamers in the lineup – Matt MacGrotty and Nick Finlay.
“That group with Corbeil, (Kyle) Rubisch, (Brett) Mydske, was built together and has done very well,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. “For the past three or four years, there’s maybe been one new guy each year, not three or four new ones like it is now so it’s a very different scenario.
“There’s going to be some growing pains but I’m all right with the fact it’s going to take a little time. A lot of it has to do with confidence and trust in the system.”
There’s no doubt the Rush miss defensive rocks Ryan Dilks and Jeff Cornwall, but they have to move forward without the long-serving duo for this season. Right now it’s about an opportunity there for the taking but a key aspect will be playing within one’s own boundaries and not going outside the box.
“There has to be patience,” said Corbeil. “We talk about the system, we go through it in practice and watch video. You can do all the preparation but the best preparation in my mind to truly getting the whole group to gel is getting game reps in together.
“Obviously, we weren’t perfect in the first half against New England. We made some mistakes, but I encourage the guys and tell them that if we’re going to make mistakes, make them on the side of being aggressive and assertive, not being passive and letting things come to you and making the same mistake.
“The more game experience we get together, the faster we’re going to come around as a group.”
Rush goalie Evan Kirk had a good view of what the newly staffed defence did well and what they need to work. Everyone, including the netminder, should have knocked all the rust off their sticks and sneakers by the time the team is ready for their raucous home-opener.
“We’re all trying to learn from each other and it felt pretty good,” said Kirk after his 41-save effort against the Wolves.
“We were all a little tentative but we understand we’re all here for a reason. We’re going to limit those mistakes and grow together as a defence together. I know we can’t wait to go home. Everyone knows we have the best fans in the league and they’re going to be behind our backs.”