The National Lacrosse League season is now well underway with all nine teams having played at least one game over the first two weeks.
Week 3 of the schedule promises even more action as the first full slate of games will be played featuring every team. Two games go on Friday night, three are scheduled for Saturday and one more will be played on Sunday.
Toronto Rock (1-0) at Buffalo Bandits (0-1)
The Toronto Rock got off to a great start last weekend against the Calgary Roughnecks, winning 16-11 at home. The Bandits lost their home opener in Week 1 when the Philadelphia Wings handed them a 17-13 defeat.
With the Bandits back at home in front of one of the biggest crowds in the NLL, expect them to come out energized and ready to get into the win column. Their offense is currently led by Mark Steenhuis with five points, while sophomore Dhane Smith has scored three goals.
On the Toronto side, Garrett Billings has already racked up 10 points in one game and is well on the way to a third straight 100-point season. Stephan Leblanc scored five goals against Calgary and is looking very strong as well.
This game might come down to goaltending. The Rock's Nick Rose (11.00 goals-against average) is one of the top goalies in the league. Bandits starter Anthony Cosmo had a rough outing to start the season, giving up 13 goals in three quarters of play before making way for backup Kurtis Wagar, who only gave up three goals in the final frame.
If Cosmo continues to struggle, Buffalo will be facing an uphill battle to make a game of this. Toronto, meanwhile, remains one of the teams to beat in the NLL East Division. I'm giving the edge to the Rock, 14-12.
Colorado Mammoth (1-1) at Calgary Roughnecks (0-1)
After the 16-11 drubbing the Calgary Roughnecks took last weekend at the hands of the Rock, they are looking to turn things around at home against the Colorado Mammoth.
The Mammoth come to Calgary with a win and a loss under their belts and want to carry the momentum of last weekend's victory forward through the two games they play this weekend.
Third-year forward Adam Jones is currently leading the Mammoth in scoring with 10 points, while team captain John Grant Jr. is right behind him with nine. Drew Westervelt, acquired from the Wings in the offseason, is tied with Grant Jr. for the team lead in goals with four.
Goaltending duties have been shared so far, with No. 1 netminder Tye Belanger getting pulled in both outings in favor of rookie Dillon Ward. Ward has acquitted himself well in relief, posting a 10.07 GAA, giving head coach Bob Hamley a tough choice as to which goalie he'll start against Calgary.
Reigning league MVP Shawn Evans had an eight-point night in Toronto, so he's showing no signs of slowing down for Calgary. Jeff Shattler, another former MVP, scored four goals in the loss.
Roughnecks goalie Mike Poulin had a slow start against Toronto, giving up seven goals in the first quarter, but he settled in the rest of the way, turning aside 45 shots in the game.
The X-factor for the game will be special teams play. The Roughnecks amassed 19 penalty minutes against Toronto, putting themselves in trouble all night long; Colorado has just 10 minutes in penalties over two games. If the Roughnecks can't stay out of the sin bin, the Mammoth will make them pay.
Calgary was outplayed by Toronto last weekend and should be expected to pick up the pace, but I'm expecting Colorado to hang in there and pull off the 13-12 win.
Philadelphia Wings (1-0) at Rochester Knighthawks (1-0)
Two undefeated East Division teams go at it on Saturday night. Philly had a terrific night in its season opener, scoring 17 goals on Buffalo. But Rochester is the defending Champion's Cup winner, and the team is trying to become the first team in NLL history to win three titles in a row.
The Wings answered some questions about their ability to score in their first game, with Kyle Buchanan exploding for an eight-point night, Jordan Hall scoring five goals and Tracey Kelusky showing he still has something left in the tank with a six-point night after a disappointing 2013 campaign.
Brodie Merrill was his usual dominating self on transition, recording an assist and 14 loose balls, while newcomer Evan Kirk made all the saves he needed to in net, posting a .750 save percentage.
Rochester just keeps on rolling, however, beating the Minnesota Swarm, 8-6, on opening night.
"Dangerous Dan" Dawson figured in six of the Knighthawks' eight goals against the Swarm, and Joel McCready chipped in with five points.
Defending Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc stopped 45 shots en route to the win and looks as dominant as ever.
As strong as the Knighthawks defense is, I don't see the Wings scoring 17 goals against it the way they did to Buffalo. The Knighthawks offense is much better than it showed as well. Look for Rochester to take this game, 12-10.
Colorado Mammoth (1-1) at Edmonton Rush (1-0)
Colorado finishes its swing through Alberta on Saturday when the Mammoth face the Edmonton Rush. The Rush beat the Mammoth, 13-10, on opening night, so Colorado will be seeking to return the favor.
Curtis Knight led the way for Edmonton against Colorado, picking up six points, while Jarrett Davis, Zack Greer and Cory Conway added five points each.
Aaron Bold had a good night between the pipes for the Rush, stopping 30 shots.
The Mammoth's legs might be showing signs of fatigue after their Friday night tilt in Calgary. This will be the first real test of a team's conditioning this year in the NLL after rosters were reduced by two spots in the offseason.
With Colorado playing its second game of the weekend with the shortened bench, my guess is that fatigue will be a factor, giving Edmonton the edge. I'm expecting a 12-11 Rush win.
Minnesota Swarm (0-1) at Vancouver Stealth (0-1)
The youthful Minnesota Swarm were stymied by the Knighthawks defense in their season opener, losing 8-6. Vancouver blew an early lead to lose to Colorado, 13-12, last weekend. So both teams will be hungry for a win.
Callum Crawford had a three-point night for Minny, and first overall draft choice Logan Schuss added a goal and an assist.
Goaltender Tyler Carlson played well enough to win, giving up just eight goals on 34 shots, but he needs a little more offensive support from his Swarm teammates.
Vancouver got eight points out of Alex Gajic, who missed all of 2013 due to injury. Rhys Duch added six points, and rookie Tyler Digby also contributed six points to the effort.
Stealth goalie Tyler Richards stopped 34 shots in the loss.
Vancouver will be making their its first home appearance at the Langley Events Centre after an offseason move to Canada from Everett, Wash. I'm expecting the team to respond well to the new digs and what will likely be a bigger, more enthusiastic crowd than it ever got in Washington.
I'm calling for a 13-11 Stealth victory.
Buffalo Bandits (0-1) at Philadelphia Wings (1-0)
Both Buffalo and Philadelphia will be dealing with tired legs in this Sunday matchup, as both teams are active earlier in the weekend as well.
Buffalo is likely still smarting from the beat down it received from Philly in Week 1 and will be looking to even the score. The Wings should be feeling more comfortable in their home stadium and should be expecting the Bandits to bring their A-game.
Although I expect fatigue to have some bearing on the results of this game, the Bandits at least have a day off to rest between contests, and I think that gives them the slight edge. I'm anticipating an 11-10 win for the visiting Buffalo squad.
Follow me on Twitter @calgaryjimbo.
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