National Lacrosse League 2012: Week 15 Previews and Predictions
After last week's NLL action, we now have four of the eight playoff spots locked down, a lead change in the race for first in the East, and yet another record set in a record-setting season.
The Toronto Rock moved back into first place on the strength of their win against Edmonton, securing themselves a spot in the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Wings dropped two straight, moving them down to second in the East. On the plus side, Wings forward Dan Dawson broke the single-season record for assists when he recorded his 75th of the year, so it isn't all bad news.
This weekend, we see a rematch between the Calgary Roughnecks and Rochester Knighthawks, who dueled to a 15-14 Calgary win on Friday. This time they face off in Rochester to complete the rare home-and-home series between these two clubs.
The other key matchup sees the Toronto Rock traveling to Colorado to take on the Mammoth in what might be a sneak preview of this year's Champion's Cup final.
Let's see what this weekend has in store:
Calgary Roughnecks (11-3) vs. Rochester Knighthawks (5-8)
Calgary won a barn-burner against Rochester last weekend.
After building up an 11-5 lead in the first half, the Roughnecks were in tough shape in the second half, as the Knighthawks came out firing and quickly cut into the lead. If not for a critical late-game goal by Jeff Shattler and some amazing netminding by Mike Poulin in the dying moments of the game, this one could very easily have gone the other way.
Shawn Evans led the way for Calgary, picking up nine points against his former team and earning the NLL's Offensive Player of the Week.
Although Rochester's goalie, Matt Vinc, had a shaky start to the game—and even got pulled briefly in the second quarter—his second half was excellent, giving up only four goals and giving the 'Hawks a chance to get back into the game.
Rookie Johnny Powless—selected in the first round last year with the pick Calgary gave them in exchange for Evans—paced the Knighthawks' attack with three goals and four assists. His seven-point night earned him the nod as the NLL's Rookie of the Week.
Rochester has now dropped three straight games while Calgary has set a team record with six consecutive wins, so it looks like these teams are headed in opposite directions. However, Rochester looked awfully good in the second half on Friday and will be trying to prove that wasn't an accident.
I'm going to go against what the statistics say and guess the Knighthawks will get the most out of their home-field advantage and eke this one out 13-12.
Washington Stealth (4-9) vs. Minnesota Swarm (6-7)
Washington enjoyed a bye week last week, while Minnesota upset the Philadelphia Wings 13-9 after stumbling the previous week.
These two teams have faced each other twice so far this season, splitting the series one game apiece. Interestingly, both games have been blowouts, with the Swarm winning the first contest 15-7 and the Stealth taking the second 20-13.
With both teams still fighting for their playoff lives, expect this one to be much closer, with a ton of intensity on both sides.
Minnesota's best scorer, Ryan Benesch, has missed the last three games with a concussion sustained in the Swarm-Stealth tilt on March 25. He remains a question mark, but his absence leaves a big hole in the offensive scheme.
The Swarm were nevertheless able to score 13 last week against the Wings, getting key contributions from Tyler Hass, Kevin Ross and Corbyn Tao, who contributed five points each to the cause. Minny will need more performances like this to stay competitive with Benesch out.
Between the pipes, rookie goalie Evan Kirk has been incredible. His league leading 9.78 goals against average is making him into a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender.
Washington is 1-2 in their last three, but after a bye week, they are as healthy as they've been all year, they're rested, and they should be ready to elevate their game for the home stretch.
Athan Iannucci had his most productive game of the season two weeks ago against Calgary, notching four goals and an assist. If he finishes the season with that level of performance, he'll make a good offense much better, as was hoped when he arrived in midseason.
Without Benesch, I still expect the Swarm to struggle and if Washington is scoring, they'll be very tough to match up against, even with Kirk's excellent netminding. I'm giving the edge to Washington, 12-11.
Buffalo Bandits (5-8) vs. Edmonton Rush (4-8)
The Bandits picked up a huge win over Philly last week, ending a painful two-game losing streak where they were outscored 32-13. Edmonton dropped another one and continue to be plagued by a lack of scoring.
The Bandits needed a big win in the worst way and they got it, routing Philly 17-7. Anthony Cosmo finally had the big game Buffalo was banking on when they signed him midseason, turning aside 46 shots and earning the NLL Defensive Player of the Week award.
One might assume that John Tavares will eventually start acting like a guy in his mid-40s, but it won't be this year. He racked up another eight points in last weekend's victory and sits in sixth place in league scoring with 69 points and second in goals with 36.
Scoring is what the Edmonton Rush badly need and aren't getting. Their top scorer, Shawn Williams, is currently 21st in the league with 52 points. As a team, they are only averaging 10.4 points per game, easily the fewest in the NLL.
Edmonton seems one piece shy of becoming a real contender and have looked that way all year. Early in the season, Athan Iannucci was holding out and kept the Rush short that one standout guy.
They made a blockbuster deal in mid-season which sent Iannucci to Washington in exchange for All-Star transition Paul Rabil but he too chose to stay at home rather than play in Edmonton. Rabil's presence on the floor for the black-and-white would have made a huge difference to their transition game.
Instead, what we have is a team that seems on the verge of being competitive, but just a step short. Unfortunate too, because they have some great talent on the floor and have not started phoning it in as the season winds down.
If the Bandits can carry their momentum forward and play to their potential, they should win this one. I'm expecting a 13-11 Buffalo victory.
Toronto Rock (7-6) vs. Colorado Mammoth (10-3)
This could easily be the game of the week.
The Rock moved back into first in the East and secured a playoff berth while the Mammoth got the week off to rest and recuperate.
In spite of numerous key injuries, the Rock find themselves in great position for a playoff run and, with the return of Blaine Manning to the lineup last weekend, they are looking much stronger than they have all year.
Since coming to Toronto in a trade-deadline move, Nick Rose has gone undefeated for the Rock, with a spectacular 8.00 goals against average. If he can maintain this torrid pace, the Rock will be very tough to beat in the postseason.
And then there's Colorado.
The Mammoth are enjoying a stellar season, powered primarily by John Grant Jr., who is on pace to shatter the single-season points record in the NLL.
Currently at 98 points, Grant only requires 17 more in his final three games to accomplish the feat and he has been averaging almost nine per game, so his target is well within reach.
Mix in the excellent play of rookie Adam Jones and veteran Gavin Prout, and the Mammoth have some extremely dangerous weapons up front.
The question for this game will be whether the resurgent Rock can overcome the juggernaut that is this year's Mammoth. My guess is no, but I expect Toronto to make it interesting. Look for a 13-12 win for Colorado.