National Lacrosse League Week 4: Previews and Predictions
It will be a busy weekend for the National Lacrosse League, with seven games scheduled between Friday and Sunday.
With all four games last weekend being won by the visiting team, home squads will be looking to reverse the trend and get onto the positive side of the ledger. This could be a pretty tall order with as much parity as there appears to be in the league thus far.
The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks have started the year 0-2. Likewise, the team with the best record in the regular season for two years in a row, the Calgary Roughnecks, have started out 0-2. Calgary plays twice on the road and Rochester has a home game against the Toronto Rock. Can the Roughnecks and Knighthawks get into the win column?
The Washington Stealth had the worst record in the NLL last year and missed the playoffs after two straight trips to the Champion's Cup final. They have gotten off to a solid 2-1 start and are currently in first in the West Division. With games in Edmonton and Minnesota this weekend, can they stay on top of the division?
Read on for the answers to all of that, and more, as we head into the upcoming weekend of NLL action.
Minnesota Swarm (0-1) at Toronto Rock (2-1)
(Photo: Graig Abel, nll.com)
The Toronto Rock were upset at home by the Philadelphia Wings last weekend and will be looking to return to their winning ways this weekend against the Minnesota Swarm.
The Swarm dropped their season opener 13-12 to the Buffalo Bandits and are seeking to change their fortunes.
Swarm goaltender Evan Kirk did a good job in the season opener, turning away 45 shots, but took the loss. Minnesota might opt to go with Tyler Carlson this weekend, as the tandem split time in net last season.
Ryan Benesch is currently the team leader in points, with seven, while Callum Crawford has five. Rookie Shayne Jackson chipped in a hat trick in his NLL debut, so that gives the Swarm another weapon to add into the mix.
The story so far for Toronto has been the play of goalie Nick Rose. His .830 save percentage is second-best in the NLL and his 9.33 goals against average is third best, so he is keeping the Rock competitive in all of their games.
The Rock's offense is being paced by Garrett Billings and Colin Doyle, who are tied for fourth in the NLL scoring race with 14 points each. Kasey Beirnes is also off to a hot start, having scored six goals.
Minnesota has youth on their side with a ton of rookies and sophomores filling the roster. I'm giving the edge to the more-experienced Rock lineup, however.
Look for an 11-10 Toronto victory.
Calgary Roughnecks (0-2) at Colorado Mammoth (1-1)
Colorado beat Calgary last weekend in overtime after scoring four times in the final five minutes of regulation to tie the game.
The Roughnecks controlled virtually every aspect of the game for the first 55 minutes of the contest before the Mammoth made their comeback. So Calgary will likely be looking to seal the deal with authority in Colorado on Friday.
Shawn Evans has led Calgary's offensive charge so far, scoring seven goals with five assists. Scott Ranger, Curtis Dickson and rookie Joe Resetarits are not far behind with six points apiece.
Daryl Veltman was a healthy scratch for last weekend's game and may dress for the trip to Denver.
So dominant is Geoff Snider in the faceoff circle that Colorado conceded most of the faceoffs on Saturday, opting to intentionally blow the draw and get a man back into position on defense.
This strategy was mostly successful, but Snider still managed to pick up three points on the night to go along with his 22 faceoff wins, 12 loose balls and nine forced turnovers.
The star of the game for Calgary, however, was goalie Mike Poulin, who stood on his head in the dying minutes of the game trying to hold off the Mammoth onslaught. He eventually turned away 41 shots on the night in the loss.
For Colorado, it was once again the John Grant Jr. show.
Grant scored eight goals and added two assists against Calgary, and as a result, he earned the NLL's Offensive Player of the Week honors. He was supported by Gavin Prout, with his seven points, along with Adam Jones and Sean Pollock, who earned four points each.
Chris Levis and Matt Roik split the netkeeping duties last weekend after Levis was injured in the first half, and it remains to be seen who will start between the pipes on Friday night.
Colorado should be feeling confident after the comeback victory, but these teams have shown themselves to be very evenly matched, historically. It would not be a surprise to see the Roughnecks even the season series.
Look for Calgary to grind out a 13-12 win on the road.
Washington Stealth (2-1) at Edmonton Rush (1-1)
Edmonton spoiled Washington's perfect record last weekend by putting an 18-10 beat-down on the Stealth. Washington will be looking to even the score this weekend in Edmonton.
One of the key differences in Washington's performance last week, as compared to their previous two games, was the play of Cliff Smith. After banging out 15 points over the Stealth's first two games, Edmonton held him to just one point last weekend.
In fact, of Washington's most reliable scorers, only Rhys Duch had a strong game, scoring three times and adding two assists. Athan Iannucci was held to two goals and Lewis Ratcliff was shut out entirely.
Washington's netminders, Nick Patterson and Neil Tyacke, gave up 18 goals, the most in any NLL regular season game so far in 2013. They'll have to step up—and get better help from their defense—to stay in this game.
Edmonton's first overall pick in the draft, Mark Matthews, had a monster of a game, registering nine points in the Rush win. He is looking better and better every time out and is easily the front-runner for this year's Rookie of the Year honors.
Corey Small chipped in with seven points and Ryan Ward added six.
Aaron Bold was solid in net for the Rush, turning away 33 shots. He looks to already be back into mid-season form.
Expect Washington to bounce back and return the favor to Edmonton. I'll take Washington by a 13-12 score.
Toronto Rock (2-1) at Rochester Knighthawks (0-2)
In their second game in as many nights, the Toronto Rock travel to Rochester to take on the struggling Knighthawks.
Toronto might be tired after chasing Minnesota's kids around the floor for 60 minutes on Friday night, and that could play a factor later in the game. But don't count out the veterans—Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson, Garrett Billings and Blaine Manning—who all know how to deal with adversity. Their experience will play a role in the result of this game.
Nick Rose will likely get the nod for back-to-back starts on the weekend, but don't be surprised to see backup Zack Boychuk earn his first start of the season Saturday night.
The Knighthawks will be looking to give their home crowd something to cheer about after dropping both of their first two games by a single goal.
The offense has had a chance to gel now, and the combination of Cody Jamieson, Johnny Powless, Dan Dawson and Casey Powell should be poised to start filling up the net.
Rochester's goaltender, Matt Vinc, has been solid so far, posting a .765 save percentage, but his defense needs to tighten up and reduce the amount of rubber Vinc has to deal with.
I'm expecting the Knighthawks to have a huge night sometime soon, and I think it might be this weekend. I'm expecting a 14-11 Rochester win.
Philadelphia Wings (2-0) at Buffalo Bandits (2-1)
The Philadelphia Wings put their undefeated record on the line Saturday night against the resurgent Buffalo Bandits.
Philly posted a decisive 13-8 win over the Bandits in Week 2 action, and Buffalo will be aiming to take revenge on the Wings.
Brandon Miller has been nothing short of outstanding thus far in net for the Wings. His 7.50 goals against and .865 save percentage are far and away the best numbers among goalies this season. If he maintains this level of performance, Philadelphia will be very tough to get past.
Sophomore Kevin Crowley is averaging five points per game early in the season and is a good bet to continue on this path. Kevin Buchanan is right behind him, with nine points in the Wings' two games thus far.
With Brodie Merrill and Paul Rabil, Philly has two of the best transition guys in the business, so look for the Wings to push the ball up the floor in a hurry.
Buffalo's new-look offense is clicking early on. Sean Williams is leading the charge with 15 points (second best in the NLL), while the ageless John Tavares and rookie Dhane Smith are tied with 10 points each.
Also of note in this game is the fact that it will mark the 200th consecutive game played for Williams, adding to his all-time record as the league's top ironman.
It remains to be seen who will be between the pipes for the Bandits. No. 1 option Anthony Cosmo has looked shaky so far this season, posting a poor 15.04 goals against. Kurtis Wagar has been much more solid, with a 9.25 goals against average, might get the nod over Cosmo.
These are two very different teams, but they are fairly evenly matched on paper. I'm going to give the very slight edge to Buffalo, however, and I am expecting an 11-10 Bandits win.
Washington Stealth (2-1) at Minnesota Swarm (0-1)
The Stealth and Swarm meet up on Saturday night in Minnesota. Both teams are coming off Friday night games, so fatigue might be a factor.
If that's the case, the edge has to go to the Swarm. With rookies Brock Sorensen, Kiel Matisz, Shayne Jackson and Alex Crepinsek, along with sophomores Jordan MacIntosh, Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson, Minnesota is easily the youngest team in the NLL and should have lots of fresh legs on their side as a result.
Chances are good that the Swarm will platoon their goaltenders this weekend, so if Kirk goes on Friday, it'll be Carlson on Saturday, or vice-versa.
It would be foolish to dismiss Washington's weapons, however.
Rhys Duch is right in his prime, while Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci are always dangerous. Cliff Smith is still the NLL points leader, and if he gets hot again, he could wreak havoc on the Swarm's defenses.
Former Swarm goalie Nick Patterson might get the start against his former club in an effort to show them what they're missing.
My gut says the Swarm have the advantage in this matchup. Call it a 14-13 win for Minnesota.
Calgary Roughnecks (0-2) at Philadelphia Wings (2-0)
Philadelphia hosts Calgary in the lone Sunday matchup.
The Roughnecks have a day to rest between road games, so they should be fresh on Sunday. The Wings will have to get ready to go less than 24 hours after getting beat up by the Buffalo Bandits, a team with a reputation for very aggressive play.
Calgary will probably go, once again, with No. 1 goaltender Mike Poulin with that travel day mixed in, but backup Frankie Scigliano will be good to go, just in case.
Philly will likely have the hot hand of Brandon Miller back between the pipes as well, but on so little rest, they might decide to give Kevin Croswell the nod.
Calgary has to be given the advantage offensively. Although they have only scored twice more than Philadelphia so far this season, they scored 40 more goals in 2012 with virtually the same group of forwards.
If this comes down to shots on goal—which it might—Calgary's chances look pretty good. I'll give the Roughnecks a 13-11 edge.
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