Their end goal is to repeat as West Division Champions, get back to the Champion’s Cup final for a second straight year, and this time around, claim the National Lacrosse League title after falling just short against the Rochester Knighthawks last season. Through three games this season, the Rush have found they have one aspect down cold just as they did a year ago as the Rush are among the best in the NLL at robbery, outright thievery, and ball-hawking. They’ve also discovered that just as in the past, there’s work to be done bumping up the numbers on the scoreboard.
The Rush boast some of the best players in the entire NLL in the relatively new stat category of forced turnovers. Edmonton’s group were the best in the business at getting the ball away from their foes last season, and they’ve picked up right where they left off, dominating the opposition they’ve faced 29-13 so far this season.
Reigning NLL Defender of the Year Kyle Rubisch and Brett Mydske lead the Rush with five forced turnovers thus far in 2013, and it’s sure to be a total that steadily rises to impressive heights throughout the campaign. The ability to garner big numbers in forced turnovers directly links to GM Derek Keenan’s desire to focus his drafting and trading on acquiring the top athletes available.
“Our defenders are all good athletes with ability to quickly take away time and space,” said Keenan. “This puts a lot of pressure on the offense to make plays quickly.”
And when the offense is made to hurry, mistakes happen and the Rush’s ball robbers are right there to make the opponent pay.
While the forced turnovers are keeping pace with last year’s impressive total, the Rush’s overall offense continues to be a focus for Keenan. It’s not coming easily, but good things hardly ever do. The talent is there, boosted by recent first-round draft phenoms Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight, and Keenan is hopeful that it’s just a matter of time and patience before things gel.
“Consistency is the key and building chemistry is another factor,” noted Keenan, whose team has managed just 37 goals through three games – the lowest total in the NLL. On the flipside, the Rush have surrendered only 32 goals – the best total in the league.
While Matthews (8 goals), Corey Small and Ryan Ward (6 goals each) have done their part, the Rush need more depth in their scoring. Goals in from transition attacks, along with a healthy Zack Greer, will go a long way to solving the problem.
“We have six new players on offense this year and it takes time,” added Keenan. “But our players have to understand that you aren’t going to score on every possession and not to get discouraged. They must grind away at it.
“I also think we need to use our speed more and play with speed more consistently. We tend to get comfortable and start to jog to key areas in the offensive zone rather than sprint and go hard all the time.”