Coming out of the all-star break, the Lizards are 8-0 thanks to tough defense, controlling faceoff presence and a balanced attack led by Rob Pannell, tied for the league lead with 42 points.

Pannell, a former Smithtown West and Cornell standout, never has had a problem posting big numbers. The third-year player was named Major League Lacrosse rookie of the year in 2013 after scoring 42 points (25 goals) in only 10 games. Before that, he produced a then-record 354 NCAA career points.

The Lizards went 9-5-1 and reached the playoffs last year and have become a force this season, a stark difference from Pannell's rookie year.

"When you're used to winning, your first season as a pro, when you don't win many games . . . losing isn't fun at any level,'' Pannell said, referencing a 4-10 season.

The difference? A 1-2 punch provided by Pannell and Boston Cannons import Paul Rabil. The offseason acquisition is No. 3 in league scoring with 36 points (19 goals).

The two played together on Team USA, but Pannell said they "didn't really have the relationship we've developed this season.''

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Rabil, a midfielder, said: "Naturally, via the scope of our positions, we're kind of brothers lost at birth, you could say. He operates behind the net and I operate in front of it in mirroring positions.

"We both can take on our defenders, we both can successfully shoot and feed really well. It's been a natural fit. From a mental standpoint, he's an incredible talent and competitor. We connect in a lot of ways in our competitive streaks and our drive on a day-to-day basis.''

Coach Joe Spallina said the addition of Rabil has taken pressure off Pannell. He compared the duo to two superstars on an NBA team, adding that Pannell has grown into an "unguardable'' player.

Spallina said second-half expectations are high, especially after last year's success.

"Anything short of a championship at this point would be a disappointing thing,'' he said. "I think we all feel very strongly about that. We need to continue to improve and raise our bar and make sure that we're excelling. We [can't] get complacent in any way.''


Up next. The Lizards host the Charlotte Hounds (1-7) Saturday at 7 p.m. at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.