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Digesting Major League Lacrosse: Week 4

Coming into week four, all Major League Lacrosse teams were a combined 3-9 on the road, with only two teams (Ohio and Denver) having picked up road wins this season. Funny enough, those two teams were at home last weekend, meaning there was more than enough jinxing to overcome if teams were looking to make moves in the standings. The Outlaws saw another challenger climb to the mountaintop, then promptly booted them down the slide like a department store Santa. The Hounds tried to beat the Cannons for the first time in their relatively short history, the Machine looked to do the same against the Lizards and both were denied. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

Actually, the lesson was the exact opposite last week, and we’d come to terms with having to expect the unexpected. So now what, expect the unexpected unless you think it’s going to happen? Is that a thing? Someday we’ll get a grasp on what this all means, but until then, let’s take a closer look at what went down in week four.

Florida Launch 15, Chesapeake Bayhawks 12

There’s still plenty season left to play, but with each passing week, the scales of the “Who got the better end of the Casey Powell/Joe Walters trade” debate tip just a little more in Florida’s favor. While Walters and his Rochester Knighthawks continue their march to a three-peat, Casey Powell continues to, well, I don’t really know if there’s a term for exactly what he continues to do. “Scorch the earth,” does that do it justice? Hmm… “Decimate the opposition?” How about “Straight-up mollywhop fools?” Any of those could work, although I’m admittedly a tad partial to the third.

At this point, you can just picture Dave Cottle calling up the Launch front office and trying to pick up one more player in the deal, like Rondell trying to grab Eminem in the Chappelle’s Show race draft. Not sure it would work, but definitely worth a shot at this point.

Powell led all scorers with seven points (one goal, six assists) on the way to re-claiming the MLL All-Time scoring record, Kieran McArdle scored five goals in just his second game and the Florida Launch won their third in a row, solidifying their status as the league’s number two team.

If there’s one positive takeaway on the Chesapeake side, it’s that the Bayhawks never gave up; you wouldn’t know it by the final score, but they were getting destroyed, the Launch putting together a seven-goal run that spanned throughout the second and third quarters Thanks in part to a few ill-advised Florida penalties (or questionable ref’s calls, depending on your team affiliation), the Bayhawks rallied with a six-goal run of their own, ultimately making it 13-10 before another Kieran McArdle goal essentially squelched the Chesapeake uprising for good.

While we’re at it, here are two other bright sides to look on if you’re a Chesapeake fan (because you seem nice, and frankly, I’m worried about you):

With Adam Rand a healthy scratch, Stephen Peyser and CJ Costabile combined to win 14-29 off their faceoffs. Of course 48% isn’t great, but it’s better than their 39% average heading into their game, and the Bayhawks saved a precious roster spot in the process.

While one of Steven Brooks’ three goals was the game’s lone two-pointer, he has successfully placed a higher priority on alley dodging and corner-turning than settling for mid-to-long-range shots this season. Saturday marked Brooks’ first hat trick in nine games, and his first two pointer in 14, which will also come in handy if Kyle Dixon and Michael Kimmel aren’t going to be in the lineup each week.

Also, the Bayhawks were 4-4 after eight games last season, then turned it on later in the year; they may not be at .500 yet, but there is a precedent for thriving as the summer rolls along. There, feel better? Yeah, I don’t blame you.

As for the Launch, two keys to their success have been a heavy reliance on the two-man game, and the willingness to use several players interchangeably at attack or midfield. First, Stan Ross is running a Casey Powell-Kevin Cunningham-Mario Ventaquattro attack line. Then you look up and Garrett Thul or Kieran McArdle is down there for Ventaquattro. Then McArdle’s running midfield with Crowley and Thul. Add that to the fact that the Launch run pick plays consistently throughout the game, and Chesapeake often found themselves in situations where, say, Peet Poillon was caught covering Powell, or Matt Abbott was covering McArdle, neither of which worked out in the Bayhawks’ favor.

Boston Cannons 14, Charlotte Hounds 6

When Ryan Boyle took the scoring title from Casey Powell, he did so last season, in a 14-10 Denver loss that sent the Cannons to the first 0-3 start in franchise history. He may have lost the record this weekend, but for Boyle, who contributed a season-high three points (along with his first goal in seven games), Saturday’s outcome was probably far more enjoyable (but don’t get me wrong, he still probably wants that record).

Eight different players scored goals for the Cannons, from Paul Rabil scoring his first hat trick of the season (to go along with three assists) to former Hound Owen Blye scoring the first two goals of his career. Meanwhile, Boston’s defense held the Hounds to their lowest point total in 21 games, and Charlotte’s 16 shots on goal is a league-wide low this season. When you’ve got an offense playing like last year’s Cannons, and a defense playing nothing like last year’s Cannons, you’ve got yourself a frightening combination.

Adam Ghitleman started in goal for the Hounds for the first time this season, and the Cannons celebrated his return with 10 first-half shots on goal, eight of which reached the back of the net. Ghitleman found his stride late in the game, but with Chris Eck winning 19 of 24 faceoffs (and grabbing 14 ground balls in the process), mounting a comeback never really seemed like a possibility.

The Cannons often relied on a strategy that’s the opposite of what you’d generally assume: when covered by a short stick, Paul Rabil drove with an eye for an open teammate. When covered by a pole, he’d split dodge and shoot, Charlotte’s poles unable to get anywhere near his hands. You’d normally tell someone to look to shoot on the short stick, but when it’s Rabil, and you know the double is coming, it only makes perfect sense to draw and dump, which explains his balanced production. Pick your poison – either way, it’s still poison.

New York Lizards 11, Ohio Machine 9

Following last week’s loss to Rochester, Lizards head coach Joe Spallina mentioned the possibility of making lineup changes after their Friday practice. He was true to his word, and the changes seemed to work: Shamel Bratton and Steven Mock were scratched, and after being left out of the lineup last weekend, Tommy Palasek returned to the Lizards attack in a big way, scoring four goals on four shots en route to New York’s first road win in a year.

Be honest: you forgot Tommy Palasek was an All-Star last season, and that he finished second on the team in scoring, didn’t you? How about two years ago, when he went six for six in a game against the Nationals, did you forget that too? Palasek’s sneaky good – he can finish, initiate, or (if necessary) distribute, and he’ll never, ever be the opposition’s main focal point in this offense.

Essentially, instead of a guy who’s really good at one thing (of Steve Mock’s 14 career goals, 12 were assisted), Spallina subbed in a guy who’s good at multiple things, and while three of Palasek’s goals were of the catch-and-shoot variety, one was an impressive “lower the shoulder, initiate contact, inside roll and dive across the crease” series against Chad Weidmaier. With the team combining for six assisted goals (up from three last week), as well as solid defense and goaltending, the Lizards successfully dodged the gigantic magnifying glass they find themselves under pretty much every time they drop a game.

Thanks to that pesky Thompson family, Joe Fletcher’s services were available a bit earlier than expected, which worked out extremely well for the Lizards. Fletcher jumped in right away and completely removed Marcus Holman from the equation. Don’t forget, even though he just graduated, Fletcher’s already used to playing with the US team; not only has he already battled the best in the country, he’s already proven that he belongs amongst them.

While we’re talking Tewaaratons and rookies, Peter Baum and Tom Schreiber scored three goals each, Baum getting short stick coverage until he scored two goals in the first three minutes of the game, at which point the short stick moved to Kyle Harrison, who assisted on a Schreiber goal about two minutes later. With one midfield line doing all the heavy lifting (Baum, Harrison and Schreiber accounted for 10 of Ohio’s 14 points), Ohio desperately needs some production (i.e., any production, really) from their supporting midfielders, especially when their attack gets shut down. Sure, Spallina prides his team on being comprised of “sandpaper guys,” hard-working, relentless blue-collar types, and that’s great and all, but still: Kevin Cooper, Greg Downing and Kiel Matisz combined for just one assist and four shots. Four? C’mon fellas, Steele’s standing back there – let a couple fly, you’ll be fine. Since Cooper has seven career goals and two hat tricks, maybe he’s just going to be an all or nothing kind of guy, but Matisz closed out last season with 13 points in five games; wherever that went, Ohio needs it back ASAP.

Denver Outlaws 14, Rochester Rattlers 8

One’s a crafty veteran who knows all the tricks and plays by his own set of rules. The other’s a fundamentally sound relative newcomer who’ll be getting carded until he’s 73. Lefty and The Kid (were either John Grant Jr or Eric Law actually referred to by those names) would make for a pretty solid buddy cop duo, but until that show gets picked up, they’ll surely settle for a combined eleven points (each with one assist to the other, because that’s what partners do) and yet another Denver win.

Although Junior (in his first five-assist performance since July of 2007) and Law (two goals, three assists) led the way, Denver’s offense was largely a group effort, with seven different players accounting for their first seven goals. The Outlaws led 6-2 at the half, and each time the Rattlers tried fighting back, Denver continued to pull away. For example, after Rochester scored four unanswered to make it 8-6, Jeremy Seiverts pulled up for a two-pointer, and just like that, the Outlaws doubled their lead.

By the way (Hey Bayhawks fans: don’t read this part), this weekend, 2013 Bayhawks John Grant Jr and Casey Powell combined for two goals and 11 assists. And their teams won. And they’re the top two teams in the league.

(Okay Bayhawks fans: start reading again)

The Rattlers made no secret that they wanted to be the ones to break the streak (John Galloway mentioned it on “Inside the MLL”), so it only makes sense that we were treated to the chippiest game of the season. First, Michael Lazore checked Eric Law in the back after a goal, at which point Law fell on Matt Miller’s stick and threw it away from him. Next, Mike Manley stepped on Dylan Roy’s back on his way to a ground ball. Later in the game, John Ranagan stood over Noah Molnar once Molnar bowled Kyle Denhoff over and either a) his own momentum took him to the ground or b) Denhoff threw Molnar from his back like Ryu from Street Fighter (or Ken, your call), and while I can’t confirm exactly what was being discussed between Sam Bradman and five or six of the Outlaws after his goals, it didn’t look very friendly either.

Maybe their last trip to Denver (a 20-7 loss last season) crept into their minds, but It looked as though the Denver mystique spotted the Outlaws at least three or four goals. Granted they were missing co-captain Kevin Leveille, but Rochester’s play hardly resembled the Rattlers team we saw over the past two weeks, their performance riddled with unforced turnovers and ill-advised two-point attempts (note: an unscreened two-point attempt on Jesse Schwartzman is pretty much the same thing as an unforced turnover).

Long story only slightly long, the Rattlers came in brash, but the Outlaws turned them around, told them to get their weight up and sent them right back.home. You can tell Rochester wants the belt, they’re just not ready to wear it.

The Big Picture

Now it’s time for a break (the league takes Memorial Day weekend off, mainly because competing against the Final Four would be ridiculous), and this weekend is a battle to see who can maintain their momentum and who can use the time off to reverse course. Much more than just a few days off, the break marks the next phase of roster evolution – the arrival of the last remaining rookies.

Assuming they sign with the league, some very high-profile additions are on their way, with teams’ entire identities potentially hanging in the balance. What will happen to your favorite team after the break? Expect the unexpected. Or don’t. To be completely honest, I’m still not sure about that.