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TORONTO, ON - DEC 16, 2017: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the Saskatchewan Rush, (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL)
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NLL Lessons Learned – Week 2

We only got to see two NLL games in Week 2, but both of them were fun to watch, and told us a lot more about four of the nine teams vying for a title in 2018. Like last week, I’ll break down the big takeaways, and look at how some of my preseason predictions are matching up with reality.

NLL Lessons Learned – Week 2

Saskatchewan Hasn’t Skipped A Beat

The big question in the NLL is not “does a team have talent?” Every team has loads of talent. The big question is “how does that talent play TOGETHER?” When we focus in on the Rush, we see that talent works very well together thank you very much. Players know their roles, work well off one another, and this is evidenced by Saskatchewan’s diverse scoring options and their defensive flexibility.

The Rush’s offense looks well-oiled with Mark Matthews as their QB, and he draws a lot of attention. When a defense focuses on him he still takes some shots to pull them out, but moves the ball incredibly well, and has plenty of guys who can put it away all around him. Robert Church, Curtis Knight, and Ben MacIntosh are 3 more mainstays that make the Rush supremely dangerous.

But the Rush also made a change during the offseason by bringing in Jeff Shattler, and the former Transition Player of the Year is already fitting in seamlessly. 8 points (2 goals and 6 assists) is a great debut with a new team, but beyond the points I was really impressed by how well Shattler fit in with the Rush from the get go.

TORONTO, ON - DEC 16, 2017: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the Saskatchewan Rush, Sandy Chapman battles for position against Jeff Shattler. (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL)
Photo: Ryan McCullough / NLL

If the Rush were looking for that “one more” option on offense to take things to the next level, they very well may have found it in Shattler. His addition also pay dividends on the defensive end as he relentlessly hounds the ball on the forecheck. One play that stands out saw Shattler hustle all the way back to the end and pick off a transition pass with one hand to snuff our a Rock opportunity. I didn’t even see him coming and I was watching from a bird’s eye view. It was next level stuff. Shattler is a huge pick up for Sasky.

Defensively, the Rush showed that they can still press out and forecheck, or play settled five on five. The Rock love to play settled O, and their transition game has struggled, so Saskatchewan’s ability to press and create short clock situations early on gave them a decided edge. Once again, the Rush are long, athletic, and extremely team-oriented on defense.

TORONTO, ON - DEC 16, 2017: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the Saskatchewan Rush, (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL)
Photo: Ryan McCullough / NLL

On top of all that, Evan Kirk was superb in net, making 48 saves, and only allowing 9 goals. Kirk looked energized, athletic, and focused, and he stopped a couple of shots that were real beauties. I was very impressed with his play, and he seemed extremely comfortable with the Rush D in front of him.

0-2 Rock Can Still Be Good

I picked the Rock to win it all this year as my dark horse pick. Anyone could pick GA or SAS, but I like to go out on a limb. While Toronto now sits at 0-2, it’s not the end of the world. Saskatchewan started 0-2 last year and still made the finals, but it also bears mentioning that SAS went on to win six straight games to move to 6-2, so… Toronto is kind of in the same spot now. The Rock don’t HAVE to win their next six games, but they do need to start winning, and soon.

TORONTO, ON - DEC 16, 2017: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the Saskatchewan Rush, (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL)
Photo: Ryan McCullough / NLL

I like what I’ve seen from Nick Rose and the Toronto defense so far. It’s a good group and when it comes to playing settled five on five, the Rock should stack up with some of the better defenses in the league. Transition and unsettled defensive approaches are a little more concerning however, as it seemed like the Rush were able to manufacture good chances in even or man down transition chances. Unfortunately, cutting the middle and really pushing from the bench, the Rush created too many chances, and the Rock will need to clean that up if they want to win these types of games.

On draws, the Rock look solid. I have no issues there or any advice to give. Just keep grinding!

Offensively, I think the Rock will come around when it comes to settled offense, and they already looked better in week 2 than they did in week 1, against two of the best defenses in the league. As the season wears on, the Rock offense could easily start to put up a lot more points. As it is with the Rock’s D, the settled part doesn’t really concern me. It’s the transition game that gives me some pause.

TORONTO, ON - DEC 16, 2017: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the Saskatchewan Rush, (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL)
Photo: Ryan McCullough / NLL

Yes, the Rock are a settled O type of team, and yes, that is partly why I like them. BUT in order to win a title in today’s NLL, you need to be able to score LOTS of goals when it’s required and settled offense can not be the only option. When last year’s finalists (GA and SAS) get hot on O and in transition, they WILL score a ton of goals.

Can you keep pace? That is a huge question for every team right now, but the Rock have shown a glaring lack of transition offense so far. You can win some games in today’s NLL without good transition scoring, but I don’t think you can ENOUGH games to win a title.

Calgary Coming Around

First off, I think Calgary misses Jeff Shattler a little bit. I’m still not completely sure why they let him go, but that is neither here nor there as Calgary still has plenty of great players, and should likely look just a little better than they have so far.

Offensively, Calgary seems to be one pass short, or one goal missed, right now more than they are clicking, but a lot of the structure is there to see this all change at any time. The O looked more comfortable against Vancouver this past week, but it wasn’t as marked an improvement as I was hoping to see from the Roughnecks. The pieces and structure are there, and there are a ton of certified scorers on this squad. I fully expect the O to start clicking, at a certain point it becomes an issue of “when” it will really happen. There are a number of newer pieces to work in, so it could take some time.

Calgary Roughnecks Dane Dobbie 2018
Photo: NLL

On the other end of the floor, I wondered if Christian Del Bianco would get the start, but he did not, and Frank Scigliano played really well for the most part, possibly re-cementing his position as the starter in even my mind. Calgary has two awesome young goalies to use this season. It’s not a bad problem to have.

When it comes to settled five on five, I think Calgary will be good, but I don’t think they will be on the same level as Rochester or Saskatchewan. That being said, what Calgary can produce in transition from the D end could be as good as anyone in the league.

Calgary Roughnecks Curtis Dickson Vancouver Stealth NLL 2018
Photo: NLL

Both Zach Currier and Tyson Bell have shown an incredible ability to press, take the ball away, scoop LBs, and push transition with speed. Each player generated 5+ scoring chances in the last game, and if Calgary can really start to score off these chances, they will be a truly tough out for any franchise.

I like the Roughnecks O and their D. Both are going to be good. But I think the difference maker is their transition offense. Add in a hot young goalie with something to prove, and Calgary is looking up.

Vancouver… Disjointed To Start

Vancouver only has one rookie, and two players with one year of NLL experience. Everyone else is in at least their 3rd season of NLL play. It’s a good experienced group, but right now Vancouver has yet to find a groove together.

Offensively they have looked a little disjointed, and only putting up 8 goals in week 1 was concerning. If Logan Schuss hadn’t shot the lights out this past weekend, we may have seen a similar result, but the Stealth still lost 15-12 to Calgary.

Calgary Roughnecks Vancouver Stealth NLL 2018
Photo: NLL

When I watch Vancouver play, my immediate thought is that their overall game is trying to be a little too fancy, or trying to do a little too much sometimes. Vancouver is working in a good number of new pieces in some places, so consistency from end to end is going to continue to be key, especially early.

Vancouver has the returning shooters to run simpler sets that would free up space inside and allow for more settled defensive possessions, but it just hasn’t come together quite yet. I think it can.

Calgary Roughnecks Vancouver Stealth NLL 2018
Photo: NLL

I like Vancouver’s athleticism in transition, and they have good experience there as well. The offense has guys who can get it done on a weekly basis, and the backline is also really solid. What seems to be lacking is chemistry, and in this league that’s what separates the better teams from those that struggle.

NLL Lessons Looking Forward

Next week we see even more action with 3 games and six teams in action. Both of the 0-2 teams (VAN and TOR) get next week off, and so does Calgary. Rochester hosts Buffalo, Saskatchewan hosts New England, and Colorado will host the defending champs, Georgia.

Will I watch all three games? Yes, yes I will!