Remember that top-flight reputation the Thunder had established through the first half of the season?
Well, it's at a fragile state right now after last week's loss, and tonight's game against the New York Saints could restore it or destroy it.
"It's a very big game," Thunder forward Joe Hiltz said. "If we come out and blow another one, teams may think we were lucky at times. Or they might start to think they've figured us out. But if we come out and play offense like we can, there shouldn't be a challenge."
The National Lacrosse League-leading Thunder (5-1) had its ego bruised last week in a 15-14 loss at Syracuse, failing to beat its ex-starting goalkeeper Derek Collins, who was pinpointed by the Thunder as its major weakness last season. And the club didn't help its offensive stat ure by producing its worst goal output of the season in its first game without superstar Gary Gait.
Gait, indoor lacrosse's all-time leading scorer who was sidelined with a pelvic inflammation, practiced this week and will determine at game time whether he plays. However, the Thunder refuses to use Gait's absence as an excuse.
"Obviously, when you take out the best player in the league, there's going to be an effect," Thunder coach John Tucker said. "But that's not the reason we lost. We just didn't shoot well. We had world-team players having point-blank shots and not even hitting the goal. I'm confident we'll bounce back."
Remove Gait from the lineup and the opposition now does not have to worry about double- or triple-teaming him. The defensive focus shifts to the supporting cast.
Hiltz and Matt Shearer, the Thunder's next best offensive options, didn't fare too well in their new roles, combining for just four goals last week as the Thunder fell five goals below its season's average. The Thunder also shot a season-low 24 percent, including misfiring on 16 of its 18 fourth-quarter shots.
And with the game on the line, the Thunder couldn't turn to Gait. Instead, Tim Hormes took the possible game-tying shot, which Collins saved with six seconds remaining.
"We just didn't show up the way we needed to," Shearer said. "We have to make the shots we're getting count and not bail out the other team by making bad ones."
The Thunder can't afford poor decisions tonight against New York goalkeeper Sal LoCascio, who ranks first in the NLL in goals-against-average (12.7) and second in save percentage (.736).
Opponent: New York Saints
Site: Baltimore Arena
Time: 8: 05 Radio: WCBM (680 AM)
Outlook: The first-place Thunder (5-1) had its franchise-best five-game winning streak stopped last week, when it lost at Syracuse, 15-14. The club returns home, where it is 3-0 and averaging 19.7 goals a game. In its last meeting with the Saints on Jan. 23, the Thunder trailed 14-10 in the fourth quarter, but scored the game's final five goals for a thrilling comeback and tied the all-time series at 12. Paul Cantabene had three goals that game, including the game-winner with just over three minutes remaining. New York (1-2), which has been idle since Jan. 30, has lost its last two games by one goal each.
Pub Date: 2/12/99