It’s a total coincidence, but three of this weekend’s matchups were listed amongst the most interesting games of the year. The one that wasn’t has since become a battle of the top teams in the league, so let’s go ahead and officially declare that one interesting as well.
We start off the week with a classic rivalry game in New York City, and a battle to get to (or maintain) a .500 winning percentage; here’s a breakdown of that and everything else to look for in week 6.
Photo Credit: 24 Seven Lax
Chesapeake Bayhawks (3-2) vs. New York Lizards (2-3)
Aside from Stephen Berger and Tommy Palasek, the Lizards offense is completely different from the one that put up three goals and went 0-9 on the power play when these teams met back in week two. When you consider their roster from recent weeks, along with the addition of Jojo Marasco and Max Seibald, the roster now looks a bit more imposing.
No matter who’s wearing the Black and Green, the Lizards need to improve on last week’s 12-goal output if they expect to win this game, meaning guys who aren’t named Rob Pannell are going to need to step up in a major way. As you may remember, Rob Pannell scored three goals and one assist last week against the Hounds. In that same game, Mark Matthews, Matt Gibson, Stephen Berger, David Earl, and Tommy Palasek scored three goals and zero assists combined.
Ever play tug-of-war with a group of people, and you think everyone’s pulling until one guy checks his watch or something and the rope doesn’t go anywhere? It’s kind of like that, and these players are too talented to sit back and watch while Pannell does his thing.
The Lizards face a Chesapeake squad coming off of their second consecutive overtime loss, and a loss this week could place them at risk for falling out of the top four in the standings. To turn things around, they’ll first have to solve the mystery behind their declining midfield production. Since I mentioned Kyle Dixon last week, let’s take a look at Michael Kimmel and Steven Brooks’ stats from this season compared to this point last year:
Kimmel (2012): 30 shots, 10g, 1 2-pt, 4a, 15 pts
Kimmel (2013): 17 shots, 2g, 0-2pt, 1a, 3 pts
Brooks (2012): 36 shots, 12g, 2-2pt, 2a, 16 pts
Brooks (2013): 21 shots, 4g, 1-2pt, 5a, 10 pts
Are they taking fewer shots because they’re just not falling like they used to, or are they not falling like they used to because they’re taking fewer shots? Shoot when you’re hot, shoot more when you’re cold, isn’t that how it goes? Either way, the Bayhawks need to figure it out before they return to their championship form.
Before we move on, there’s one more thing we need to address: in case you didn’t hear, the Chesapeake Bayhawks activated Tim Goettleman earlier this week. MLL’s all-time leading goal-scorer, of both of the regular (268) and game winning (14) varieties, THAT Goettleman. Head coach Dave Cottle says he’s in tremendous shape (weighing in about 45 pounds lighter than when he hung it up back in 2011), and while he most likely won’t be activated in time for this week’s game, you have to wonder: first Casey Powell, now Tim Goettleman – exactly what kind of crazy Ocean’s 11 mess is Dave Cottle cooking up over there in Annapolis?
Oh, and Casey Powell returns. That’s big too!
Boston Cannons (1-4) vs. Rochester Rattlers (2-3)
Before the season began, you probably didn’t have this game pegged as a battle for sixth place, but here we are: the Cannons fresh off a 10-point loss to the Outlaws, the Rattlers eeking out a two-goal win against the Machine last week, and the two teams meeting for the first time since Rochester’s overtime upset last June (you may remember it as the rainy scene from the Rabil commerical).
Rochester head coach Tim Soudan was thrilled with his team’s defensive effort last week, and although the Machine haven’t exactly been lights out lately (and a bunch of their guys had never played in the MLL before), he had every right to be. The offense could still use some work, however, so and the Rattlers have activated Duke midfielder Dave Lawson this weekend to add depth to the midfield.
The Boston Cannons could use some midfield depth of their own, but they also need to be concerned about their defense, particularly in the transition game. Last week in Denver, far too many midfielders were picked up far too late, and the Cannons paid for it, a situation that Jordan Macintosh and Ned Crotty (assuming he’s coming out the box again, that is) are more than capable of recreating this weekend.
Ohio Machine (0-5) vs. Charlotte Hounds (2-3)
When a team is winless, like, really winless, there’s an inherent pressure that goes into playing against them. You don’t want to be the team that hands them their first win, and you definitely don’t want to do it in front of your own fans, meaning the Charlotte Hounds better show up ready to play.
Fortunately for the Hounds, they’re coming off of their most complete game of the season by far. While their offense has been strong all year, their defense responded positively to being called out by head coach Mike Cerino, holding the Lizards to just two goals in the second half.
Things aren’t going quite as well for the Machine, but there’s cause for optimism: Eric O’Brien’s facing off at a 50% clip (28-56) in his last three games, the Ohio defense has been playing well (they only gave up nine points in last week’s game against the Rattlers) recently and and Brian Phipps, who played absolutely out of his mind last week, will be back in goal.
Offensively speaking, they’ve still got some work to do, and the first goal should be putting double-digits on the scoreboard, something they’re yet to do this season. I’ve said it once before, but it bears repeating: three guys scored goals last week against the Rattlers. That’s it, just three. However, if everyone can produce during the same game, if you put week 4 Steele Stanwick and Marcus Holman together with week 5 Logan Schuss, and add a little Kiel Matisz to the equation, maybe, just maybe, we’re getting somewhere.
Hamilton Nationals (5-0) vs Denver Outlaws (5-0)
It’s fair to say the Denver Outlaws are currently making things look ridiculously easy. Not only have they won their two most recent games by double-digit margins, but they’re the only team to score 20 points in a game this season. And they’ve done it three times.
For the Hamilton Nationals, their path to the top has been a bit more nerve-wracking, with two of their wins coming in overtime and a third on a last-second Kevin Crowley two-pointer, but it’s gotten both teams to the same spot: a battle of the league’s two remaining undefeated teams.
Preparing for the Nationals’ two-man game is like preparing for an NFL team like the 49ers or Redskins that uses a crazy read option offense. If they’re the only team running these sets with this level of ease and consistency, you can’t spend three weeks getting ready for them; you’ve got other teams to worry about. You saw it last week even with the normally-solid Chesapeake defense: the picks (and re-picks) and rolls just keep working. And if they don’t work? No harm done, they just reset and try them again. About 70% of the time, however, they work every time.
When it comes to the Outlaws, the problem lies in the fact they’re flat-out doing everything well. They have the highest shooting percentage in the league. They have the toughest penalty kill. Chris Bocklet’s leading the league in goals. Anthony Kelly’s having the best season of his career. Add Lee ZInk negating the opposing team’s top attackman and Jesse Schwartzmann’s 50-yard clears, and you’ve got a team with no apparent weaknesses or vulnerabilities.
The biggest questions leading up to this game involve how each team plans to cover the opposing midfielders. For example, where’s Brodie Merrill going to spend most of his time? Merrill spent a large chunk of last week’s game playing close defense (Dana Wilber handled LSM duties in his absence), but a team like the Outlaws is even more midfield-heavy than the Bayhawks, which is really weird to say about a team with Brendan Mundorf on the roster. Now that Zack Greer is taking runs out the box as well, the Nationals are under even more pressure to handle their midfield assignments correctly. Quick, Jeremy Sieverts and Zack Greer are running down the field. Who gets the LSM? Too late, Drew Snider just scored.
It’s another weekend with games spread across several days, so make sure you check our tv schedule for all the times and channels. Enjoy the games, good luck to your squad, and check back next week for the recap.