Week 2 of the National Lacrosse League season is now in the books. With it, some interesting story lines are beginning to take shape.
The Washington Stealth, who finished dead last in the NLL last year, are now 2-0 to start the new campaign and are looking very good.
Likewise, the Toronto Rock appear to be on a mission thus far, picking up two wins on the road last weekend.
Meanwhile, the two teams who made it to the finals last year have not yet won a game between them.
This adds up to a bunch of exciting match ups for Week 3, where several teams are looking to assert themselves back into the playoff picture and several other teams are looking to maintain their momentum.
The Toronto Rock and Philadelphia Wings are both undefeated at this early stage of the season. After this weekend, one of them won't be anymore.
The Wings beat the Buffalo Bandits last weekend, paced by newcomers Jordan Hall and Kevin Buchanan, who contributed seven and six points respectively.
Goaltender Brandon Miller had an outstanding game, turning away 43 shots for an .843 save percentage.
Brodie Merrill was a loose ball machine, as usual, collecting 16.
If Philly can maintain this kind of performance, they will be very tough to beat.
Toronto won back-to-back games in Alberta last weekend, besting both the Calgary Roughnecks and the Edmonton Rush.
Along the way, Colin Doyle and Garrett Billings picked up 10 points apiece while Kasey Beirnes scored five goals.
Nick Rose had an excellent weekend, giving up just 20 goals while stopping 89 shots.
Both of these teams have started out very strong and I'm expecting a very close game as a result, but I'm going to back the Rock and give them the 12-11 edge.
The Rochester Knighthawks are the defending Champion's Cup winners and, although they have gotten off to an 0-1 start, should have the firepower to contend once again in the NLL East.
They'll be hosting the Buffalo Bandits, who won one and lost one last weekend after making some significant changes to their roster in the offseason.
New arrival to Buffalo and future Hall of Famer Shawn Williams already has seven points in two games, tying him for the team lead with fellow future Hall of Famer John Tavares. They are followed closely by rookie Dhane Smith, who has six points in his young career.
As with last year, goaltender Anthony Cosmo has gotten off to a poor start, giving up 11 goals in only 35 minutes Friday night before being pulled for Kurtis Wagar. Wagar, by contrast, has done a very nice job between the pipes, turning away 49 shots and posting an excellent 9.25 goals against thus far.
Jay Thorimbert and Mark Steenhuis are leading the loose ball parade for Buffalo so far with 17 and 13 loosies, respectively.
Although Rochester dropped their first game of the season, there are reasons for hope.
Johnny Powless and Cody Jamieson both picked up five points in the opener while Dan Dawson added four more. Veteran Casey Powell missed that game with the flu but, with two weeks off to recover, should be good to go again, adding more firepower.
Miatt Vinc was peppered with 64 shots in that first game, but he stopped 51 of them, making it a solid effort for him. The defense will be expected to step their game up against Buffalo and reduce that shot total.
With their offense back at 100 percent, I think Rochester has enough weapons available to pull this one out. Look for Rochester to win at home 13-11.
The Colorado Mammoth and Calgary Roughnecks are both in unfamiliar territory right now, having both dropped their first games of the year. Each team will be pushing hard to get onto the good side of the ledger Saturday night.
Not surprisingly, reigning NLL MVP John Grant Jr. led the attack for the Mammoth last weekend, picking up three goals and three assists. Gavin Prout and Adam Jones chipped in five points each in the losing cause.
Sean Pollock and Ilija Gajic had solid games at the other end, picking up 10 and nine loose balls, respectively, but there weren't many more positives to take from the Mammoth's defensive performance.
Goalies Chris Levis and Matt Roik split duties in net and gave up a combined 17 goals on 55 shots. That will have to improve if Colorado hopes to be in this game.
The Roughnecks had three players rack up five points apiece with Curtis Dickson, Shawn Evans and Daryl Veltman all turning the trick.
Calgary's real struggles were in transition, where they allowed the Toronto Rock multiple uncontested breakaways in the first half, and it showed in goalie Mike Poulin's performance as he gave up 13 goals on just 48 shots, which is sub-par for him.
Geoff Snider led the team in loose balls with 16.
Both of these teams can score goals in bunches but struggled to keep the opposition in check last weekend. I'm therefore expecting both squads to emphasize defense this week, which should result in a relatively low-scoring affair. But because Calgary beat the Mammoth 20-11 in their exhibition matchup in the preseason, I'm going to give the edge to the hometown Roughnecks 11-10.
The Edmonton Rush and Washington Stealth had the two worst regular season records in the NLL West last season, with the Stealth missing the playoffs. Edmonton, on the other hand, got white-hot in the postseason and went all the way to the finals, coming up just short against Rochester.
This year the Stealth are off to a 2-0 start and are looking like a team on a mission. The Rush have only played once, but dropped that game to Toronto last weekend.
Four Edmonton players earned five points each in their home opener, including Corey Small, Ryan Ward, Curtis Knight and rookie phenom Mark Matthews. All four will be called upon to equal or better that performance this weekend.
Aaron Bold had a solid night in net, stopping 34 of 44 shots.
Washington's standout thus far has been the play of Cliff Smith. In two previous seasons, the most production Smith has ever managed was 20 points playing for the Mammoth in 2010. This season he already has a league-leading 15 points in just two games.
Rookie Kyle Buchanan has been lighting it up as well, notching nine points so far.
With Smith and Buchanan emerging as serious threats, Washington now has five shooters to worry about. Rhys Duch (10 points), Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci (seven points each) can all fill up the net, so they'll put tremendous pressure on the Rush's vaunted defense.
Tyler Richards (12.04 goals against) and Nick Patterson (12.96 goals against) have split the goaltending duties thus far, both earning a win.
Faceoff savant Bob Snider is so far running away with the league lead in loose balls, having collected 30 already.
At this point in the season, Washington is looking very good. If there is a team out there that has a shot at cooling off their offense, it's probably Edmonton. But I don't think it'll happen just yet. Call it a 12-10 Stealth victory.
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