Week 3 is in the books. I made some calls on who would win these NLL games and the majority of them turned out to be wrong. It happens! I also did a BlogTalk Radio show with Marisa Ingemi of InLaxWeTrust and Mike Wilson of the NLL Blog where we made lots of predictions and shared our thoughts on the season, all while it was only 2 weeks old. What can I say, I love being surprised.
The NLL’s overall talent level is so concentrated, and therefore so high, in 2011, that most of the games have been pretty close so far. Off-season trades seem to be working out well for Minnesota and new players have had an instant impact in Rochester. Boston is struggling record-wise to the surprise of many and Philadelphia has already won a game to get back in the thick of things. The season is still early, but the action is already intense. I love the NLL.
Toronto Rock – Boston Blazers
I was on the money with calling Toronto over Boston by 1 in a mid-teens game as the Rock won 15-14 in OT. Both teams looked fluid on offense and consistently got good looks even though the keepers for both squads played well throughout much of the game. For Boston, Cosmo was absolutely electric in Overtime. He singlehandedly made that the best OT in the NLL so far this year. Boston lost on a bit of a weak goal, as a pass got through to the net while Cosmo was moving across the face of the goal to defend the intended target of the pass. Still, the game was awesome and delivered on all the hype. These teams play again in February so look for another awesome game then.
Casey Powell has proven to be the main initiator on offense for Boston. A lot of the teams’ looks are derived from where he is on the floor. This is both a blessing a curse. If he’s on the wing, they often clear out to let him operate on the wing. His quickness made the underneath move a constant threat. When Powell moved higher on the right hand side, there were more picks set low and he curled up for a lot of good looks. This resulted in 5 goals and 4 assists for Powell and also contributed to Dan Dawson’s 2 goal, 7 assist night. However, the rest of the team combined for 17 points, and 8 of those came from Kevin Buchanan as he exploded for 5 goals and 3 assists.
Boston will need to spread their scoring out a bit more and run a more cohesive team offense as the season progresses and getting Buchanan in the mix more in a big game, early in the season, is a good sign. Powell and Dawson can obviously do it all, but if they don’t have to do it all, the Blazers will be a lot more dangerous. Some may rip on Sanderson for what they consider sluggish production but I think he played a team game and still ended up with 3 assists. Powell is one of the best ever, but at times, I think Boston let too much of their O flow through him. Overall, they looked good, but not great, and this team is definitely shooting for great. So there is work to be done.
Toronto, on the other hand, had 6 players with at least 3 points to Boston’s 4. The big guys on offense for the Rock (Billings, Manning, Doyle, LeBlanc) all produced but they also got scoring from Stephen Hoar (a defender), Matt Mcleod (another option at forward they picked up from Orlando), and Kasey Beirnes (another forward for the Rock who puts up about 30 points a year). This balance allowed Toronto to look like the better team for much of the night, even though the game came down to the wire.
Even when it was closest, or when Cosmo was literally standing on his head in OT, I always thought the Rock would win. They just looked more together. Boston can definitely get there but they’ll need to become a well-oiled machine and not just a team of stars to do so. I’ll give Boston some more time though; rumor has it these guys barely even got to play together before warmups for the season opener AND they have a new coach in Matt Sawyer. By season’s end, if Boston’s O looks a little bit more like Toronto’s, the Blazers could be unstoppable. If they continue to rely solely on Powell and Dawson alone to create looks, they’ll lose in the playoffs when it counts.
Minnesota Swarm – Edmonton Rush
I said Edmonton would win this game but that they would try to win it 8-7. They lost 9-8. Even when I’m wrong, I’m right! Cut me some slack here all right? It’s still early. Edmonton didn’t push their whole team forward as much as I thought they needed to score more transition goals. It was more rare in week 3, that all 5 guys pushed forward and Edmonton seemed ok to wait for settled looks. They got good production on O from Ryan Ward as he scored a goal and assisted on 3 others while Gavin Prout went 1 and 2 in scoring and was in the Swarm players’ faces all night long. He was like a constant presence always chirping and checking and pushing. I think he really helped Edmonton be competitive by playing like this all night long.
Brodie Merrill showed up big and scored 3 goals alongside 2 assists so while Edmonton didn’t always push the ball, when they did, Merrill was involved. He hung around and got some great looks from late cuts and taking advantage of defensive switch overs. Very heady play from the big man and he proved, once again, just how important he is to his team’s success. Disher was good in goal but not quite good enough for the Rush to pull out the win. Man, he is one big dude.
Minnesota, like Toronto, used a more balanced attack and had 6 players with at least 2 points. Zack “the Enforcer” Greer dropped 2 assists, but then again, so did the Swarms’ goalie, Nick Patterson. In addition to the assists, Patterson was great in goal for the Swarm coming up with 47 saves. Some of his best came late in the night as Minnesota was trying to hold on for the win and Edmonton was knocking on the door. Wilson, Giles and Crawford all produced some points and Ryan Benesch showed why he was such a great pick up for Minnesota as he had a goal and assisted on 4 others. Minnesota is looking like a up and comer in the West but remember, they beat Edmonton by one, at home, in a game where they were outshot 55-38. Something to think about.
Philadelphia Wings – Colorado Mammoth
Philly won a game! Of course they were eventually going to win a game but I was surprised to see it happen now, on the road, and against Colorado. I thought John Grant Junior would have a big game and while he peppered the cage with 19 shots on goal, yes, 19 shots on goal, he only scored on 2 of them. He also had 6 assists, so its not like he didn’t play well, but when your big dog takes 19 shots and only 2 drop, you could be in a for a shocker of a loss.
Coloado had decent overall production as 6 players (including Grant) had 2 or more points. Brian Langtry went 3 and 1 while Alex Gajic went 1 and 3. Overall, 9 players scored for the Mammoth and the majority of the offense went through Grant. When a team relies on a player like Junior, it often works out. But when Grant can’t quite seem to nail his shot, anything can happen, and that includes losing to Philly.
Max Seibald had a big game for Philly and every time he steps on the floor, it is evident what a great athlete he is. He scored 3 goals and added an assist and seemed to make a lot of big plays when Philly needed it, whether it was clearing the ball through a couple of players or disrupting an opponents clear; Seibald was a game changer. As he becomes more and more accustomed to the indoor game, his production should continue to increase. Ideally, he could make a great forward for Philly… he’d just also be able to play great defense if they needed him to. He’s athletic and versatile and has a bright future in the league. Ryan Boyle and Athan Ianucci each notched a goal and 2 assists and Pat Heim dropped 3 assists from D to help Philly win. Paul Dawson, usually known for kicking ass, scored 2 goals and assisted on other. His second goal was actually the game winner and I was as shocked as Colorado. Don’t ever doubt the Dawsons, I guess!
I’ll be back later with more on Buffalo – Toronto, Boston – Rochester, and Washington-Calgary!!