At this point in the NLL season, we’re heading into a league-wide bye week, and all teams have now played at least two games. Nobody is hitting the proverbial panic button on the season just yet, and we’re not crowning champions either, but it’s still impossible to ignore the handful of teams with a goose egg in one of the standings columns.
In the empty loss column, we have undefeated Bandits and Thunderbirds teams, while the winless contingent is made up of the Riptide, FireWolves, and Panther City. So, it’s worth taking a look at these teams to see who is most likely to pick up a win (or loss) in the group.
First up, the winless trio:
Winless & Undefeated NLL Teams
Panther City Lacrosse Club (0-3)
If you were to list which teams would be winless at this junction, Panther City would be the least surprising based on the fact that they are the sole expansion team. They are also the only Western team to be on this list, which helps their chances significantly as they look to turn things around.
But out of all of the teams that are winless now, they could be considered most likely to turn things around the quickest. Two of their losses are by just a single goal (Philadelphia and Colorado), while their big loss was to the Warriors in the club’s first-ever home game. They certainly don’t need to worry about making major wholesale changes, and just more time on the floor should go a long way. But with no games until Jan. 8 against the Seals, the time off may be a negative for the team at this point.
New York Riptide (0-3)
The rebuilt Riptide are on paper one of the teams with the biggest (if not the biggest) turnarounds in the entire NLL. With new players all over the floor, including handing over the offense to Callum Crawford and Jeff Teat, the New Yorkers have been extremely competitive in their three outings so far. They lost their opener to Rochester by a single goal, then lost by two to Philadelphia a week later followed by four to Georgia the same weekend.
With no games this past weekend, they have a full two weeks off before facing the Mammoth in Denver on New Year’s eve. Based on Colorado’s last outings, this game should be very winnable for the Riptide, but that is not an easy arena to be a visiting team in.
Albany FireWolves (0-2)
Coming off a very disappointing home opener against the Knighthawks, the Albany team worries me the most out of the winless teams at the moment. Their opening one-goal loss to Toronto gave the impression that this team would pick up right where they left off last year as one of the top teams in the NLL. But this last game against Rochester was definitely sowing seeds of doubt for me.
While their offense was struggling getting the ball in the net, I actually have more confidence in them turning things around and getting points on the board sooner. Where I was more concerned is defense, both in transition and settled possessions. Rochester was able to convert plenty of opportunities on fast breaks where the FireWolves seemed almost incapable of slowing the break. With upcoming games against Saskatoon and Halifax, that’s definitely concerning. In settled sets, they were letting the Rochester forwards (especially rookies Ryan Smith and Charlie Bertrand) get inside looks all day long both off ball and winning 1:1 matchups.
Will they turn things around? Probably. I am still concerned? Very.
Buffalo Bandits (2-0)
The “Chaos” Bandits have started the season with two strong wins. Their season opener was a big 16-9 win over the defending champion Roughnecks. What separated things in that game was a 7-0 third quarter which saw three goals from newcomers Connor Fields and Tehoka Nanticoke as well as mainstays Josh Byrne, Chase Fraser and mostly Dhane Smith who assisted on every goal he didn’t score. When you have an offense scoring like that and Matt Vinc anchoring your defense, you have to feel good about things.
They followed that up with a 12-8 win over the Thruway rival Knighthawks. In this game, it was actually a six point run in the fourth quarter to seal the win, once again marked with extremely balanced scoring.
The only thing working against the Bandits is their massive stretch of games off. With no games this past weekend or next, they don’t see the floor until Jan. 8 against Toronto, which will be nearly a full month of being idle. For the Bandits’ hopes of being undefeated to stay alive, they need to hope that their rest is good and won’t allow for any rust. OK, that joke was a stretch.
Halifax Thunderbirds (2-0)
Perhaps one of the most dominant looking teams so far is the Thunderbirds. While the scores were closer than what the Bandits faced, their overtime win over Saskatoon followed by a four point win over the Rock should instill a ton of confidence in Halifax fans.
What was remarkable to me in the Toronto game was watching the beginning of that (thank you time zone difference!) and then switching to another game, and then back again. The reason why this stood out was how much *faster* Halifax was playing. They create transition opportunity after transition opportunity and are relentless on offense when they have the ball. That transition is started because not only is Warren Hill great between the pipes again (3rd in the league in save percentage), but their defense is aggressive and physical, creating great opportunities to push the ball up the floor.
One thing has been clear with Halifax so far, if you’re not ready to play, they will be making plays at your expense. Next up for them is a date with the Roughnecks in Calgary on Dec. 30 before they host the Riptide the following week back in Halifax.