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Breaking Down: San Diego Seals v. Saskatchewan Rush

The San Diego Seals headed into Saturday night’s matchup hoping to ruin the Rush’s banner raising ceremony, but it wasn’t meant to be. San Diego played a tight game and kept it close with the defending champs, but the offense slowed down in the later stages of the game; the Seals managed only two goals in both the 3rd and 4th frames. Impressive once again was rookie Austin Staats, who buoyed the San Diego Seals on offense with a six-point night, including four goals. He sees the net incredibly well, he plays like a five-year veteran and has already amassed seventeen points in this young season.

Now, what the score won’t tell you is that the game could have gotten out of hand had it not been for the performance of Frank Scigliano in net. Scigliano was peppered all night by the Rush offense, but the Seals net-minder stopped 47 of the 63 shots he saw and at least kept the game within reach for San Diego. A lesser effort might have seen the Rush put up 20 or more but Scigliano and the San DiegoSeals defense did all that they could to fight off the juggernaut that is the Saskatchewan offense and it was an impressive sight; and that made for an even more impressive game.

One player who was making his San Diego Seal debut and who I kept a close eye on throughout the game was Garrett Billings, who was making his return to action after having missed all of last season. He is by no means a young guy, and missing a season will take its toll on you no matter your age. But, he didn’t miss a beat, dropping two goals — including the first of the game just two minutes and 38 seconds in — and four assists. He didn’t look rusty, he looked ready to play and he brought his ‘A’ game. He’s going to be a huge asset for the Seals, especially if they want to keep up their early season form and make a run at the playoffs.

Speaking of playoffs, if you had asked me a month ago whether I saw the Seals in the postseason, I would have definitely said no. However, they continue to defy my expectations, and I don’t see this game as a step back by any means. They continue to prove that they’re a competitive club, and their other loss this season — coming against Calgary — is more fluke than any indication of whether they can hang with the big boys in this league.

The San Diego Seals just need to find a few more guys who can score consistently, and so I’m looking to Turner Evans (5 G, 6 A, 11 PTS, 8 LB) and rookie Connor Kearnan (2 G, 5 A, 7 PTS, 7 LB) to pick it up a bit. With the changes to the playoff format and a struggling Vancouver and Colorado sitting behind them in the West standings right now, I don’t think the playoffs are completely out of the question anymore.

The San Diego Seals (1-2) play their first home game in franchise history at the Pechanga Arena this coming Saturday, January 12th, against the Rochester Knighthawks.

On the Rush side of the field, this game saw them return to form after dropping their season opener to New England 12-11 at Mohegan Sun. That outcome surprised me as much as everyone else, but they shook that off quickly and got back to business. And let’s be honest, they weren’t about to lose on banner raising night. The Rush were without Robert Church (who’s been placed on IR, so let’s see how long that lasts) but Nik Bilic made his return to the lineup and gave the Rush the boost they needed on defense.

Without Church on the offensive side of the ball, someone had to step up; cue Ben McIntosh, who made a night of it, with five goals and four assists. He had three of those five goals in an explosive first quarter, one that saw the Rush come out on top 6-5. At that point, it could have been anyone’s game, but the Rush kept scoring efficiently and often. And where McIntosh left off, Jeff Shattler began, with three of his four goals coming in the second half. Even though play balanced out after the first quarter, Saskatchewan was just too much for the Seals to handle.

The sequence of action that defined the game came in the fourth quarter, as the San Diego Seals were making a late-game push that saw Kyle Buchanan sting the corner over Evan Kirk’s shoulder from the righty side to make the game 14-11 Rush and to bring the Seals within three. But, two minutes later, McIntosh came back and scored a low-corner goal off his back foot from the point to make it 15-11 and emphatically put the game out of reach. The Seals would score only once more, on Staats’ fourth of the night, coming at 14:47 of the 4th on a power play.

Scoring also came from unexpected places on the Rush side of the ball, and big ups to Jordi Jones-Smith on scoring his first NLL goal, one that really fired up the crowd and got momentum moving in the Rush’s favor early on. And after a sloppy first, the Rush never looked back and locked it down. They looked like the team we expect them to be, and they were dominant not just on O but on defense and transition as well. Jeremy Thompson went 21-29 on draws, and Evan Kirk had 37 saves on 49 shots. Sakatchewan’s last three quarters are more indicative of the team that they can be than their first five quarters played this season, and if they can keep that play up, it won’t be long till they’re back on top of the West again.

No banner raising this weekend, as the Rush (1-1) travel to Vancouver to take on the Warriors at Rogers Arena on Saturday, January 12th.

Seals – 12 Rush – 16 Final

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