Maybe the biggest difference between the current 3-1 Minnesota Swarm and the 5-11 squad from a year ago is confidence.
“Confidence” was the word of choice used by Minnesota head coach Mike Lines during Wednesday’s league media conference call as his team prepares for this weekend’s bout against the Buffalo Bandits (2-2).
“Our confidence is there,” said Lines, whose team will be looking for their fourth straight victory on Friday. “We are winning the close games which we haven’t done in the past. We are winning those games and that helps build confidence.”
The Swarm are currently 2-1 in one goal games this season with their only loss coming in an overtime contest against the Rochester Knighthawks in Week 1.
Though the season is still early, the improvement in close games seems to be showing as Minnesota went 1-5 last season in one-goal affairs and lost four of their last five games by a single point.
So far, the Swarm have been playing a full 60 minutes of lacrosse in their three wins, something Lines has said many times that they didn’t do in 2010.
The team has also gotten a scoring boost from Ryan Benesch’s 13 goals, Callum Crawford’s eight goals and Aaron Wilson’s and Mat Giles’ six goals.
Zack Greer has also had a solid start to his second NLL season, tallying five goals and five assists. In 13 games last season, Greer had 10 goals and 13 assists, and if he continues at his current pace, he’ll surpass those numbers by the ninth game this season.
However, the real reason for the Minnesota’s success can probably be attributed to the goaltending of Nick Patterson.
Patterson has been tremendous in net for the Swarm in 2011, as he sports a 9.05 goals against average and a 0.816 save percentage, both tops among Western Division goaltenders. He has also made at least 40 saves in the last three games, all of which happened to end up in Minnesota wins.
“I think that is where all the confidence is coming from,” Lines said of Patterson. “He is making 45, 50 saves a game, he is doing a great job. The confidence is coming from him and going through our defense, where we are carrying the ball very well.”
There is that word “confidence” again.
Minnesota would like to keep that confidence going this weekend against a team looking for some confidence in Buffalo.
After delivering Toronto their first loss of the season in a 15-14 overtime thriller on Jan. 22, the Bandits weren’t as successful in the rematch last weekend, losing 8-5.
In fact, Buffalo was shutout for 33:13 in the middle of last week’s game against the Rock and were finally able to get some balls past Toronto goalie Bob Watson in the fourth, when they scored four times.
Scoring has been a problem for Buffalo this season, as they have only reached the 10-goal plateau once in their four games this season, back in that overtime game in Toronto.
“When you only have one goal going into the fourth quarter, I think everybody knows what the problem is,” said Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour of his offense. “We need some consistency out of them (the offense) in getting 10 goals, and then I think we’ll be fine.”
With the northeast being pounded with snow and winter weather, the Bandits' practices so far this week have been cancelled, and they’ll only get one chance to work on their offense before Friday’s game, coming on Thursday night.
Buffalo and Minnesota will meet in the first of two meetings this season on Friday at 7:30 p.m. EST at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. They’ll meet again on Mar. 27 in Minnesota.
Friday’s game will be broadcasted live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.
Here is a look at the other three games in Week 5 of the National Lacrosse League season.
Philadelphia Wings at Rochester Knighthawks—Saturday Feb. 5, 2 p.m. EST
It has been a rollercoaster ride for the Philadelphia Wings this season.
It was no surprise that the Wings lost their first two games of the season; however, the surprise came when they won their next three contests, getting two wins over Colorado and one over Boston.
“It seems like we have played a full season already,” said Philadelphia head coach John Tucker. “We realize that we are only five games into this thing, but to be down 0-2 and to fortunately win three games in a row, it is a testament to the preparation from our assistant coaches and the grit of our players.”
The Wings may be 3-2 overall and in second place in the Eastern Division, but their last game against Colorado on Jan. 29 was anything put pretty. Philadelphia was up 10-4 at halftime, but their offense stalled in the second half as the Colorado attack began to heat up. The Mammoth scored seven second-half goals, but the Wings survived in the end, taking the 12-11 victory.
Tucker will be looking for a full 60-minute game from his players when his team travels to Rochester, N.Y. for a matinee game against the Knighthawks on Saturday.
“We played well enough to win the last game, but it was certainly not a perfect outing by any means,” Tucker said of his team’s game against Colorado. “We know there is a long way to go, game six against a very good Rochester team away from home will be quite a challenge for us.”
The Knighthawks (2-2) were embarrassed last weekend by Boston, losing 16-7 at home.
On the bright side for Rochester, they’ll be playing four of their next five games at home, giving them an opportunity to get some solid wins at Blue Cross Arena as they try to move up in the Eastern Division standings from their current fourth place spot.
Rochester head coach Mike Hasen said that he knows that these upcoming home games won’t necessarily decide how they finish the season, but he did say it would be nice to get some wins in front of the home crowd, especially after his team started 0-2 in their home building this year.
“That is the place where our fans come and support us,” Hasen said. “It is our home place and we want to make it a tough place for teams to come in and to start fearing the building again.”
A win by Rochester and a loss by Boston would move the Knighthawks into third place in the division while a Philly win and a Toronto loss would give the Wings a share of first place in the East.
Toronto Rock at Boston Blazers—Saturday Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m. EST
In Week 2, Toronto and Boston met to decide first place in the Eastern Division. The Rock won the game, while the Blazers lost their first in what would be the start of a three-game losing streak for the team.
The two clubs will meet again this weekend, but this time in Boston as the Blazers continue their climb back up the Eastern Division standings.
In their last meeting, the Blazers (3-3) scored three late goals with the extra attacker to tie the game, but they ended up losing on a Rock overtime goal from Stephan Leblanc.
“I thought we showed good resiliency in coming back and kept rolling in overtime. Toronto got a bounce and they won that game,” Boston head coach Matt Sawyer said of the Week 3 game in Toronto. “We are going to have to be better on Saturday night against them. I’m sure they’re going to be better as well. They protected their home floor, now it is up to us to protect ours.”
On Jan. 22, the Rock (4-1) lost 15-14 in overtime to Buffalo. Last week in the rematch against the Bandits, the Toronto defense stepped up, allowing only one goal in the first three quarters to help the Rock get the 8-5 win.
Head coach Troy Cordingley said he was pleased with his defense last weekend and will be looking for the same type of effort on Saturday as they’ll face Boston’s big three: Casey Powell, Dan Dawson and Josh Sanderson. All three of the Blazers' star players have at least 26 points this season, and Powell and Dawson are on top in the league in points, with 38 each.
Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday from TD Garden in Boston.
Washington Stealth at Colorado Mammoth—Saturday Feb. 5, 9 p.m. EST
The Colorado Mammoth this season are 1-3 overall, but all four of their games have been decided by one goal. Odds are pretty good that this weekend’s game against the Washington Stealth will be decided by one goal as well.
Colorado and Washington met back in Week 1 in a tight affair that was only decided by a power-play goal five minutes into overtime.
The Mammoth will be looking for their first win at home since the 2009 season, but to do that, their offense is going to have to start heating up as Washington (2-3) has scored 59 goals this season while Colorado has only tallied 39.
Even with the lack of offensive firepower so far this season, Colorado head coach Bob Hamley said he’s pleased with the group of players he presently has.
“We believe in the group that we have,” Hamley said. “We have a quality group. We think our defense is going to be the strength of our team; we just have to get the offense going a little bit. We really believe in the guys that we have. We just have to get a couple breaks and be a little smarter.”
Colorado may be 5-15 in their last 20 games, but Washington head coach Chris Hall still has a lot of respect for the Mammoth.
“Just because we won there early in the year, we have to reflect on how we won that game because I thought we were fortunate to win that game,” said Hall, whose team has lost three of their last four contests. “You have to understand how good Colorado is. I thought at the beginning of the year that they would be the most improved team, certainly in our division and they have been unfortunate so far, but that is the nature of the league.”
You can expect another nail-biter this Saturday as six of the last eight games between Colorado and Washington have been decided by three goals or less.
All four of this weekend’s NLL games will be broadcasted live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.