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Digesting Major League Lacrosse: Week 2

0 - Published May 7, 2014 by in Featured, Major League Lacrosse, Pro Lacrosse

After only two weeks of play, Denver stands alone atop the leaderboard. The Outlaws are the only undefeated team in the league, as opposed to last season, where three teams saw the 3-0 mark, and the Nationals and Outlaws made it to 5-0 before having to square off against one another. Meanwhile, the Charlotte Hounds are camped out in the 0-2 basement, and the rest of the league is sitting at 1-1.

In case you missed anything, here’s what went down in week two:

Boston Cannons 7, Rochester Rattlers 8

See people, this is why we don’t get completely carried away by week one results. After scoring 15 goals against the defending champs last weekend, the Cannons managed only seven in week two, at one point trudging their way through a 26-minute scoring drought. On the other hand, their defense held another opponent to single digits, so (considering the 202 goals they gave up last season) if you want to go ahead and crown them as “improved,” by all means, go ahead.

After sitting out the opening game, Mike Stone suited up and Steven Berger was given the night off. John Tucker is big on setting his lineup based on matchups, but unless it came down to Bayhawk-style salary cap juggling, was it a matter of either/or between those two guys? Berger had a great day dodging Chesapeake’s defensive midfielders the previous weekend; they definitely could have used some more of that on Friday night.

Speaking of dodging shortsticks, hey, Boston d-mids: especially now that Brodie Merrill’s joined the team, prepare to get challenged. Every. Single. Time. Watching this game was like watching a football game where the starting cornerback gets hurt so they bring in the guy from the practice squad, the opposing QB keeps throwing straight at him, and all you can do is wince and yell “leave him alone, already!” at your television. They clearly didn’t get lit up, as evidenced by the final score, but Boston’s defensive midfield is going to determine exactly how far this team goes. Just a heads up, fellas: it’s going to be a busy summer.

Not to shortchange the teams’ defensive efforts, but this wasn’t exactly what you’d call a “pretty” game. So many offsides calls, so much missing the goal, two illegal stick penalties, just general sloppiness all around. At the end of the first half, the teams had combined for only 18 shots and a startling 26 turnovers.

After establishing a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead at the break, the Rattlers tried their best to let Boston hang around in the second half, losing 10 of 12 faceoffs (half of those losses coming off of faceoff infractions – how does that even happen?). Ultimately the Cannons had just enough turnovers up their sleeves to keep things interesting, and it’s back to the drawing board for two of the league’s top week one offenses.

Charlotte Hounds 8, Florida Launch 11

With Adam Ghitleman still coaching, Pierce Bassett got the starting nod over Mike Gabel, filling Brett Queener’s “Help out anytime, fellas, I’ll just be over here turning away a thousand shots by myself” role from last week. Much like with Queener’s performance against the Outlaws, take away a few exceptional saves and this thing could have gotten out of hand early.

Charlotte head coach Mike Cerino removed Matt Danowski from his traditional attack spot and moved him to midfield, presumably to help generate some offensive cohesion among the group. It didn’t work, but Danowski still got his to the tune of three goals on the evening. Meanwhile, Florida played the same game, running Garrett Thul as a midfielder in his season debut. Considering Florida’s lack of midfield scoring last week, it was the perfect call: in his first goal of the game, Thul, who’s larger than most humans as is, found himself covered by defensive midfielder Casey Cittadino, who gives up five inches and 46 pounds in that matchup. Thul lowered the shoulder, drove righty, rolled back, finished lefty, then did literally the same thing when the Hounds tried switching Ryan Flanagan into coverage a short time later.

For the Launch’s lineup, what a difference a week makes. While depth questions remain, you could do far worse than a Crowley/Amidon/Thul midfield line for the time being. On the other side, however, it’s another sad week of single-digit point production for the Charlotte Hounds. The team managed a total of 55 shots, which currently leads the league for most in one game this season (Denver’s 46 in week one, also against the Launch, is in second place), but they missed the cage 29 times, and their shooting percentage is a league-low 17% thus far. Despite Mike Sawyer taking 11 shots and Jake Tripuka taking seven of his own, Danowski was the only Hound to score more than one goal on the day.

Where do the Hounds go from here, especially considering they could still be (barring upsets) several weeks away from the arrival of their top rookies? It makes me wonder what Eric Lusby and his 31% shooting are up to these days.

New York Lizards 11, Chesapeake Bayhawks 12 (OT)

Of course it had to be Stephen Peyser. If not for the former Lizard’s (he arrived in Chesapeake from Ohio this offseason, about ten minutes after New York sent him to the Machine) overtime heroics and a bit of questionable late-game decision-making, the Lizards could have beaten the Bayhawks for the first time since 2011.

Chesapeake’s offense looked far more energetic than in week one, starting off the game by testing New York’s vulnerability from long distance. When that wasn’t working (And it wasn’t, really; head coach Dave Cottle recently tweeted “After two weeks without the grippy ball in 2014, 2 pt goals are down from 15 in 2013 to 6. Do we really think this is a good idea?”), the Bayhawks drove the alleys, gained inside position on their defenders, and generally finished from no more than five yards out.

As Cottle noted during his halftime interview, only three of New York’s 18 goals from week one were assisted. Accordingly, the Bayhawks defensive strategy was simple: force bad passes and create turnovers while using Brian Spallina’s “Those Ghosts from Mario” defense (i.e. remaining still until you turn your back, then immediately flying over to kill you) on Rob Pannell to ensure someone else was doing the scoring.

The strategy worked to a reasonable degree; despite picking up two goals and an assist, Pannell’s seven shots tied his career low (set in a zero-goal effort against Chesapeake last season), and New York’s midfield was forced to handle the bulk of the scoring duties.

Greg Gurenlian won 19 of 26 faceoffs (grabbing 13 gbs and scoring a shorthanded goal along the way), and honestly, it didn’t seem that close. Adam Rand (4-12 on the day) managed to win the one that began overtime, and Cottle called an immediate timeout, yet the Lizards still had a chance to win. Coming out of the timeout, Kyle Dixon fired a shot from just inside the two-point line that sailed right into Drew Adams’ stick. Adams tossed it to CJ Costabile, and Costabile, with nobody covering him, attempted a 35-yard pass that sailed over his midfielder’s head and out of bounds. The Bayhawks got the ball, Matt Abbott Matt Abbott-ed his way 55 yards down the field, and Peyser finished it off.

Despite the win (and major improvement from their week one shellacking in Boston), the Bayhawks don’t look quite three-peat ready just yet. Chesapeake was outscored 7-2 in the second half, and a lack of crisp, accurate passing has halted several fast-paced scoring opportunities dead in their tracks. But that’s not what you really want to talk about, is it? You want to talk Pannell/Crotty, don’t you?

Last week, I established that a 10-goal performance was our signal to jump to baseless conclusions, but guess who came in and scored the eleventh? That’s right, Ned Crotty. Crotty entered the game at attack in the second quarter (perhaps he was serving a five quarter suspension?), and cashed in on a defensive lapse (Spallina and Ben Hunt both ended up covering Steve Mock, nobody covered Crotty) in the fourth. Other than that, nothing much to report just yet. Oh, but we’re going to talk about it. Don’t you worry, we’re definitely going to talk about it.

Ohio Machine 12, Denver Outlaws 14

The Denver Outlaws came this close to seeing their regular season winning streak halted at 21, but they ultimately fought back, rendering the paragraph of Undertaker-Brock Lesnar schtick I’d prepared in advance completely useless.

After some unfortunate Ohio pipe shots and a few diving goals from Eric Law, the Outlaws took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter, and looked fairly comfortable doing so. Maybe they got a little too comfortable, because sloppy turnovers and failed clears soon gave worked, and Ohio began to capitalize. As the Machine offense launched their rally, Anthony Kelly became the person most responsible for keeping Denver’s winning streak alive.

It was obvious – Denver was on the ropes. Kyle Harrison’s juking d-mids out of their shoes. Marcus Holman’s tossing shots in over his head. Steele Stanwick’s picking the defense apart with his high lacrosse IQ (here’s a game I invented this weekend: every time an announcer mentions a Stanwick’s “high lacrosse IQ,” drop and do ten push-ups; you’ll be ripping phone books in two by halftime). Total damage? Six Machine goals in a row, and eight of the last nine. With the Outlaws now down 11-7, Kelly wins the faceoff. Two passes later, he’s jogging back to the faceoff X and Denver’s down 11-8. Kelly wins another one, and Jeremy Sieverts puts it in about twenty seconds later. Two goals, about a minute apart, that halted Ohio’s momentum and saved the game for the Outlaws.

After a diving goal from Jeremy Sievert put the Outlaws ahead, a Scott Rodgers save (followed by the best outlet pass of this admittedly short year) gave Ohio the ball with a one-goal deficit and just over a minute on the clock. Steele Stanwick drove from X against Lee Zink, Zink put the ball on the ground, Michael Simon scooped it up and the Machine never saw it again.

Look, hindsight is obviously 20/20, but down one goal with a minute left in the game, why is Steele Stanwick driving against Lee Zink? And that’s no disrespect to Steele Stanwick – I don’t care who you are, if your team is down one goal with a minute left, and your choices are a) drive on Lee Zink, or b) do literally anything else in the world, pick b, every single time. Take Zink away from the play. Take him to midfield. Take him to the endline. Take him to the concession stand. Buy him a churro. I don’t care. Just get him away from that ball.

Overall

We have one team that is undefeated, and one team without a win. Each team is now 2 games into the season. We know nothing, Lebowski… but it sure is fun!

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