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Digesting Major League Lacrosse: Week 9

Photo Credit: Casey Kermes

At this point last season, the Denver Outlaws had officially clinched a trip to Championship Weekend, leaving the remaining seven (well, six, to be honest – sorry Ohio) teams to duke it out for the remaining three spots.

This year’s a bit different: not only are all playoff spots still available, but everyone still has a shot at the postseason.

We’ve got a short week (like, really short: week ten begins tonight), so let’s get right to it: In case you missed anything, here’s a closer look at week nine.

Major League Lacrosse Highlights

Hounds 15, Cannons 12

Playoff-wise, the Hounds are still on the outside looking in. However, their “Wait for it…wait for it…okay, go win a bunch of games” strategy appears to be paying off much like it did last year: not only have the Hounds won three of their last four games, but for the first time in franchise history, they finally beat the Boston Cannons, a feat surely twice as sweet after the 14-6 drubbing they received at Harvard Stadium earlier this season.

With the Ryans, Boyle and Young, missing from their respective lineups, Will Manny and Stephen Berger led the Boston attack with five points each, with Charlotte’s Justin Ward contributing five points of his own. For the rookie Ward, Saturday marked his fourth three-assist performance in just five career games, but the most noteworthy stat of the game was a team one, as the Hounds grabbed 36 ground balls compared to just 16 for the Cannons.

While cleaning up on the glass used to be a Boston specialty, Charlotte’s dominance helped keep them in the game until their offense started to click.

Maybe it was the extra game on Wednesday, maybe it was the Charlotte weather, but when the fourth quarter rolled around, the Cannons defense looked like they were aging in dog years, giving up nine goals and watching helplessly as their lead vanished before their eyes. Slides began arriving a step late, Jordan Burke managed only two saves, and after getting Craig Ehlo-d by Rob Pannell during the Team USA scrimmage, Kyle Sweeney got turned around by a cutting Matt Danowski, who buried a Mike Chanenchuk feed to give the Hounds a 12-10 lead.

Completing his annual migration to the Queen City, Geoff Snider made his season debut for the Hounds, and although he won only 10 of 26 draws, provided offensive contributions when they were needed the most. Snider scored immediately after Danowski’s aforementioned goal, then raked the ensuing draw directly to John Haus, who promptly scored a goal of his own. After three Charlotte goals in an 18 second span, the Cannons never recovered.

Bayhawks 18, Launch 11

Brendan Mundorf. Steven Brooks. Kip Turner. Brian Spallina. Probably some other guys. The list of Chesapeake Bayhawks absent from the week nine lineup was long and esteemed, and it didn’t matter one bit, as the Bayhawks in uniform generated the team’s highest offensive output and first road win of the season.

Between Saturday night and the Team USA vs Team MLL Scrimmage, Joe Walters took last week to remind everyone who may have forgotten that he’s a cold-blooded assassin. Walters scored or assisted on six of Chesapeake’s eight first-half goals, ultimately finishing the evening with four goals and four assists. And to think, for some reason or another, the man just didn’t feel like trying out for the US team.

If I’m the Prime Minister of any of the Blue Division nations, I’m placing a call to Walters and floating a dual-citizenship offer his way ASAP. No harm in asking.

With their field general now firmly in place and Tucker Durkin out of the Launch lineup with a concussion, Chesapeake took advantage of an overmatched Launch defense, chasing Brett Queener from the game after a Ben Hunt goal gave the Bayhawks a 14-5 lead. While he’d certainly like some of those 14 goals back, it’s especially tough to blame Queener for the final one he allowed: Hunt was left alone while five Launch players slid to Drew Westervelt. That’s right, roughly 83% of the Launch defense slid towards Drew Westervelt on one play, a questionable strategy that didn’t quite pan out.

Florida head coach Stan Ross recently lamented that his team was being too selfish. This week, however, they were unselfish to a fault: too much jamming the ball into the crease, too many behind-the-back passes to nobody in particular, all in all, too many unforced turnovers, leading to the team’s third loss in a row.

Lizards 19, Machine 13

So, here’s the good news for the Ohio Machine: they continue to lead the league in scoring, which always gives them a chance to win. And here’s the bad news: they give up more goals than any other team, which, as you’d imagine, is not good for business. Saturday night was no exception, as the Machine were betrayed by their defense once again, extending the team’s streak of never having defeated the Lizards.

It’s what’s gradually becoming a more popular strategy, New York placed poles on two Ohio midfielders throughout the game, leaving an attackman (in this case, Logan Schuss) to deal with the short stick. The strategy paid off, and Schuss came crashing down to earth after his recent scoring tear, going without a point for the first time since his MLL debut last season.

While the rest of Ohio’s offense managed to get by just fine (Peter Baum contributed five goals, Kyle Harrison and Tom Schreiber three points each), Ohio’s donut defense (you know, soft on the outside, completely empty in the middle) permitted the Lizards to get as close as humanly possible before deciding to shoot the ball. In fact, of New York’s 18 goals scored (Kyle Hartzell added an empty-net two-pointer in the final minute), nine came from no more than a yard away from the crease. Although some were the result of poor sliding, in many instances, an attackman just did all the work himself, weaving his way through the crowd without any fear of retribution.

With Matt Streibel and Max Seibald out of the lineup, and Ned Crotty currently riding in the trunk (for the record, that’s the extreme version of “taking a back seat”) in the Lizards offense, JoJo Marasco took advantage of the extra room in the spotlight, tossing in five goals during a “Not today, everybody who’s trying to stop me” offensive performance that was downright prodigious. How prodigious, exactly? I’m not completely sure I’m ever used that word before, that’s how prodigious. Meanwhile, with two goals and two assists, Rob Pannell turned in one of his finest performances of the year. Granted the numbers aren’t particularly remarkable by Pannell standards, but his production all took place within the confines of the team dynamic, which is precisely what head coach Joe Spallina has been demanding all season.

Rattlers 19, Outlaws 14

Speaking of 19 goals, the Empire State Offensive Onslaught continued on Sunday afternoon, as the Rochester Rattlers took down the first-place Outlaws in convincing fashion. Dave Lawson and Mark Cockerton led all scorers with six points each, Cockerton producing his via six goals on six shots while filling in for Mark Matthews. By the way, in case you’d forgotten: a whopping eight guys were selected later than Cockerton in last year’s draft. Time will tell, but that late-round flier seems to be working out fairly well thus far.

After Sunday’s loss, the Outlaws find themselves forced to address some defensive concerns they’re definitely not used to having. For starters, 19 goals is the most allowed since a Mike Powell-led Cannons squad dropped 20 on them back in 2008, and unlike their week six loss to Charlotte, this one came without the “Yeah, but” asterisk of an absent Jesse Schwartzman. Well, Schwartzman was somewhat absent in week nine: he started the game, but was pulled early in the third quarter once a Jordan Wolf goal gave the Rattlers a 14-5 lead (apparently 14-5 is the magic number for subbing goalies these days). While the Outlaws held the Bayhawks to six goals in week eight, Chesapeake still managed 54 shots, forcing Schwartzman to make a career-high 28 saves in the process.

Furthermore, we’re no longer seeing the lockdown, “Pencil his opponent in for zero goals and zero assists” performances we’ve grown to expect from Lee Zink. Back in 2013, it was a huge deal when someone finally managed to beat Zink one on one (It was John Grant Jr in week seven, by the way); this season, it’s just something that happens from time to time, be it Matt Danowski in the Team USA scrimmage or Rob Pannell a few weeks ago (Zink was named Defensive Player of the Week despite four goals from Pannell – two in garbage time, but they still count). Granted we’d become incredibly spoiled over the years, but we haven’t quite seen the old Zink Island as often this season. Pennisula, maybe.

The Zink commentary doesn’t even take Jordan Wolf’s three goal, one assist performance into account, because Wolf has made every one of his defenders look like they’re wearing timberlands in a swimming pool. In fact, Sunday afternoon marked his least productive MLL game thus far, so the Outlaws have that going for them, which is nice.

Maybe it still exists in the confines of Mile High, but if the Hounds hadn’t done so already, the Rattlers all but buried any element of an intimidating Outlaws mystique. From Michael Lazore and John Grant Jr exchanging unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the first quarter, to Donny Moss punching Grant late in the fourth (on second thought, maybe they just don’t like Junior, but you get the point), this Rattlers team remained the aggressor throughout the entirety of the game.

You could tell they were gunning for it during their week four matchup in Denver, but now it’s official: Rochester looks more than ready to wear the belt.

Big Picture

Okay, to review, the basement got higher, the penthouse got lower, and we were roughly one quarter away from seeing a five-team tie in the standings. Meanwhile, nobody wants any part of the last-place team and their backup goalie.

Got it? Well, if you don’t, it doesn’t really matter, because Week 10 is here, with the 4-5 Florida Launch heading to New York to battle the 5-4 Lizards this evening.

Between the logjam in the standings, roster-decimating world games, and the looming trade deadline, an already-unpredictable season is about to change once again.