Week Four of the National Lacrosse League season saw a couple close games and a couple blowouts, but lots of interesting results. The Colorado Mammoth remain the only undefeated team at 4-0, while the Washington Stealth are the only winless team at 0-3.
Once again, Shea Haney and I are sharing duties on the previews. Starting with mine this week:
Toronto Rock (2-2) vs. Philadelphia Wings (2-1)
Both teams are coming off successful weekends where they were able to establish some momentum. The Wings are now tops in the East with Toronto tied for second, just a half game back.
The Rock in particular had a huge weekend, winning two tough games while starting to look like the NLL's defending champs.
Their offense was very effective, even without big guns Blaine Manning and Colin Doyle in the mix. After an uncharacteristically slow start, Josh Sanderson picked up 15 points in two games last week and looks to be back in the groove. Garrett Billings was right behind him with 13 points last weekend.
Goalie Matt Roik looked much better last weekend after a shaky start to the year. In particular, he acquitted himself quite well against the Calgary Roughnecks after being called into action just four minutes into the game when starter Patty Campbell was ejected for a fight with Calgary's Geoff Snider.
Philadelphia meanwhile has gotten right back on track after receiving a beat-down from Rochester in their first game of the season. Now on a two-game win streak, they are looking to continue to roll.
Dan Dawson had an eight-point night against the Buffalo Bandits last weekend and is rounding right into his typical dominating form. Rookie Kevin Crowley is performing like a first pick overall, having notched 16 points already in the season, good for second most on the Wings.
Brodie Merrill, acquired from Edmonton in the offseason, is having another fine season, with 29 loose balls collected so far.
Netminder Brandon Miller has looked much better the last two games after getting blown out in Week Two. Last week he turned away 30 shots in the win against the Bandits.
Toronto is still getting out-hustled on the defensive end, having not yet won the loose ball battle in any of their four games to date. I think this will be the deciding factor in Philly's favor. Look for the Wings to edge Toronto 13-11 at home.
Washington Stealth (0-3) vs. Buffalo Bandits (2-2)
The Stealth, who have been to the Champion's Cup final two years in a row, are struggling badly right now, having not yet picked up a victory. Buffalo, meanwhile, is solidly in second in the East.
The Stealth were embarrassed last weekend at home against Edmonton, managing only five goals in a resounding 16-5 defeat. This has to be considered the low point for the defending West Division champs.
Washington's typically high octane offense is sputtering. Their 24 goals are the fewest of any team in the NLL, including two teams that have only played two games. Their big threats, Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff, have to start putting the ball in the net if the Stealth have any hope of getting back on track.
Bob Snider is still the centrepiece of the defense, having scooped up 36 loose balls so far. He is also once again winning most of his faceoffs, with a 64 percent success rate in draws.
Tyler Richards, in his first full year as No. 1 goalie, has not looked great, posting a 12.96 GAA to date.
Buffalo got blown out 19-11 last weekend and will also be looking to round back into form.
The ageless John Tavares is once again leading the Bandits' offense. The NLL's all-time scoring leader has 23 points so far and looks as good right now as he ever has. Luke Wiles, acquired from Washington in the offseason, is second in scoring for Buffalo with 16 points.
While Buffalo's defense has done a decent job, with more loose balls and forced turnovers than their opponents, they have surrendered a lot of shots on goal. Mike Thompson has done a solid job of turning those shots away, with a 11.51 GAA and .747 save percentage.
These are two teams with a lot of pride who will not want to continue their losing ways. Look for a hard-fought battle but, based on how things have been going, it looks like Buffalo has the advantage and should come out ahead. Call it 12-11 for the Bandits.
And now for Shea's predictions:
Minnesota Swarm (1-1) vs. Rochester Knighthawks (1-3)
My predictions begin with the game involving the Swarm and the Knighthawks. This game will take place on February 4th at 7:30 pm in New York.
This is an important for the Knighthawks who have stumbled out to 1-3. They need to win this game to stop their three game slide. The Swarm will be a tough beat, however, coming off of a 19-11 defeat of the Buffalo Bandits in Week Four.
The Swarm will look to Callum Crawford to continue to lead the team offensively. While for the ‘Hawks, Cody Jamieson has racked up 27 points in his first four games on 2012. He is the team leader in goals, assists and overall points.
After watching the Colorado Mammoth vs. Knighthawks game live, I can attest that the ‘Hawks need to be more physical on the defensive side of the ball. If they can increase their defensive prowess, their losing streak may cease this week.
Look for the talented offensive players for the Knighthawks to step up and deliver a victory this week. My prediction is a 14-12 victory for the Knighthawks at home.
Colorado Mammoth (4-0) vs. Edmonton Rush (1-1)
The second game of my predictions is the Colorado Mammoth vs. the Edmonton Rush. This game takes place on Saturday, February 4th at 7pm in Denver.
This game will pit one of the best offensive teams (Mammoth) against the one of the best defensive teams (Rush). The Mammoth’s offensive prowess has been well documented and can be summed up with two words: Grant and Jones.
Grant is pacing the entire league with 37 points after four games. The next closest, Cody Jamieson, is still 10 points behind. Adam Jones and Gavin Prout are close behind tied at No. 4 with 22 points.
The Rush will have to provide on the league leader in goals against average percentage in Aaron Bold. Bold has a 9.00 GAA and a .824 save percentage. They also have a balanced offense with the likes of Ryan Ward, Shawn Williams and Zack Greer. This trio will be key if the Rush want to upset their rivals.
The Mammoth have been the poster children for a turnaround. Last season the Mammoth stumbled to a 5-11 record. This year they remain the only unbeaten left in the league.
Now I understand the Mammoth probably won't go undefeated, but this game they should roll. Look for the Mammoth to continue their undefeated season with a 16-12 victory at the Pepsi Center.
Shea Haney 4-4
Jim Flannery 3-4