Last season, the Portland LumberJax rallied from a slow start to become the first and only expansion team to win their division in the history of the National Lacrosse League. This season, the LumberJax are once again finding wins hard to come by in the first half of the season.
Jax in downward spiral
Last season, the Portland LumberJax rallied from a slow start to become the first and only expansion team to win their division in the history of the National Lacrosse League.
This season, the LumberJax are once again finding wins hard to come by in the first half of the season. Unlike last year, however, a return trip to the playoffs seems unlikely. While you cannot win a division in the first half of the season, you can certainly lose it. Portland has simply dug itself into a hole too deep to climb out of.
After winning their home opener in an overtime thriller against Buffalo, the LumberJax have yet to win since at the Rose Garden, dropping their last three. A current six-game slide is the reason for the 2-6 record.
Despite the troublesome start, all 7,192 fans on hand for their most recent home game on Thursday night were loud and behind the home team. Jerseys bearing the names of Ryan Powell and Brodie Merrill, the LumberJax’ two premier players, were worn in abundance, and the cheers were thunderous with every goal, penalty and hard hit.
The energy of the home crowd was not enough to propel the LumberJax to a victory on Thursday, as they fell to the division-leading Colorado Mammoth by a score of 10-8.
“I think that the guys did everything we asked them to do tonight,” said Portland head coach Derek Keenan. “We played with enthusiasm and heart, the ball just didn’t go in the net. We had a ton of chances in transition.”
Six minutes into the game, things already looked bleak for Portland when goaltender Dallas Eliuk was removed from the game due to injury. Dwight Maetche filled in nicely as a replacement, allowing only eight goals to a team that entered the game leading the division in scoring. Despite his performance, which earned him LumberJax Player of the Game honors, Portland could not muster enough offense to take advantage.
Two nights later, after a cross-country trip to Rochester, N.Y., the LumberJax continued their downward spiral with an 18-12 beating at the hands of the Knighthawks.
Eliuk was ineffective in his return, surrendering 12 goals after entering near the end of the first quarter.
If Portland does not get the offense and defense both working together on a particular night, this losing streak may have no end in sight. When the defense steps up, the offense takes the night off. Saturday, offense became a moot point when the opposition seemed to score at will. With games disappearing off the schedule quickly, the LumberJax need to find answers soon.
“We have yet to put all of the aspects of the game together. Once that happens, we will win games,” said Keenan following Thursday night’s loss.
The biggest positive during this cold streak has been the play of recently acquired Kelly Hall. Portland traded for the former Minnesota Swarm forward on Feb. 7. Since then, Hall has paced the LumberJax offense, netting three goals in both games he has played with Portland.
The LumberJax will try to end their losing streak starting Friday, Feb. 23 when they travel to Edmonton. The following day, they fly south to complete their season series with Colorado, who has taken both previous games this season. That game will wrap up their first-half schedule, as teams will take a break for the all-star game, held in Portland this year on March 10.