March 5, 2013

First-Place Rock Not Content, Looking to Improve

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Toronto general manager Terry Sanderson said the Rock are allowing too many goals, but doesn't blame goaltender Nick Rose.
© Ward Laforme

Toronto has been cruising along atop the overall National Lacrosse League standings for most of the winter but don't presume that means an aura of contentment surrounds the Rock.

Far from it. This is a 6-3 team that knows it could be 9-0.

Back on Jan. 19, the Rock led 7-4 at home with six minutes remaining and allowed Philadelphia an 8-7 steal.

In Minnesota on Feb. 8, two late goals by the Rock forced overtime. They had all the momentum and a ton of chances to claim the win but couldn't bury their shots. The Swarm prevailed 13-12.

Last Thursday, the Rock blew an 11-8 lead in the fourth quarter to a visiting Buffalo squad that stunned them 15-13.

So, what's the mood in the Rock realm?

''Prior to last week's game, it was one of I would think of confidence in that we feel we have a good team,'' said GM Terry Sanderson. ''But then we laid a huge egg against Buffalo on our home floor. That made us step back and realize we have a lot of work to do yet.''

Toronto was 5-1 in early February but is 1-2 in its last three games.

''We're allowing too many goals,'' Sanderson said. ''We've allowed 12 or more goals in each of our last four games and that is not the recipe for winning the Champion's Cup.''

He does not blame goaltender Nick Rose, who has the third-best save percentage among the league's first-string goalies. He does not blame the defensemen. He points a finger at the forwards, who were guilty of errant passes and much more last week.

''When you start getting too cute, that's when it usually ends up costing you,'' Sanderson said.

What's more, Rock forwards have been too slow off the floor when they lose possession of the ball, Sanderson said, and that leads to fast-break goals by opponents.

''When we're allowing other teams to transition us, that falls on the shoulders of the offense and them not doing their jobs.''

Rock shooters are averaging 12.2 goals a game, which is third best in the league.

''That's a real good average, if you're being responsible defensively,'' Sanderson said. ''Offensive averages are not just about goals. It's about discipline. It's great to have an average of 14 but if you're going to allow the other team stick a goal in your net, then I wouldn't say that's a good offense. Guys have to get off the floor quicker.''

The trade deadline is on Monday and final rosters must be submitted to the league office by next Wednesday.

''If there is a move that is going to help us, we will be actively pursuing that move,'' Sanderson said. ''It's got to make sense. We don't make moves just for the sake of making moves but, if there's something there that can help us, you're damn right.''

The 2-6 Colorado Mammoth visit on Friday. Toronto is a so-so 2-2 at home so, despite the Mammoth malaise, a Rock victory is not a given. They need a W though if they want to feed their desire of winding up first overall when all is said and done because their last six games represent a potential roadblock to success: at Philadelphia on March 16, home against Edmonton on March 24 and against Buffalo on March 29, at Rochester on March 30, home against Rochester on April 7, and at Philadelphia on April 13.

If the Rock can tweak their offense to satisfy Sanderson and land the top seed throughout the playoffs, they'll have a good shot at a seventh title in the franchise's 16th season.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.


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