NLL Lessons Learned: Week 4
I am learning more and more about this year’s crop of NLL teams, and Week 4 was no disappointment! Last week, I put up some Power Rankings, so for Week 4 I’ll re-rank the teams taking into account their most recent games, trends, and how they each look moving forward. I was going to call them Goodness Rankings, but Power Rankings seem to be the accepted vernacular.
Power Rankings Methodology
Before I actually get into ranking the teams, I want to fill you in on my methodology. While It’s not all about stats, or even records, I do take those things into account. But, it’s only Week 4 right now. As the season progresses, and playoffs start to loom, records will become a much bigger factor. In the meantime, I’m really looking at how these teams are progressing, and where their developmental path will take them as the season moves along.
The first question is – How well does a team address all three of major phases of the game? Offense, Defense, Transition. Power play is part of offense, penalty kill is part of the defense, and draws fall under transition play. Does a team possess ability and strength in all three phases of the game? That’s the first issue and it’s reasonably easy to figure out by watching every game.
The second question is – How consistent is this team? Can the team execute in all three areas of the game, and if so, how consistently do they produce good chances and make good plays? A defense that plays great 75% of the time can still give up 20 goals if the other 25% of the time is really bad. Especially in early games, consistency is key. Again, this is relatively easy to address by watching the teams play each week.
The third question is – What is this current team’s trend, based on games they have already played? Are they pulling together and playing with passion? Or does the team seem disjointed and still figuring things out? If a team isn’t scoring, are they at least creating lots of good looks? If a team is giving up lots of goals, are they at least limiting shots, or extending out to pressure and it’s just not quite clicking? There is a big difference between trying to dictate and failing at it Vs. simply sitting back and being dictated to. This is a little harder to judge, as it requires an ability to determine what a good shot is or isn’t, etc, but again, by watching the games, it starts to become evident.
The final question is – Where can this team go from here? It’s the hardest question to answer, so I save it for last in my analysis. It’s a gut feeling more than anything, but for me it comes down to how confident I am in a team early on while watching games. If I am confident in a team’s chances early, and they keep me confident all game long, they are talented, consistent, and trending up. It makes me like them even more. The NLL is a game of controlled chaos, those who manage it best and look the most comfortable from start to finish have the best foundation for the future.
Week 4 Power Rankings!
I have ranked the teams below, as they currently stand in Week 4. The team’s Week 3 PR is in parentheses ().
#1 – Saskatchewan Rush (1) – The Rush did not play in Week 4, but sit at 2-0 win a home and road win, and are outscoring opponents 41-20 over those two games. Sasky is playing relatively complete games right now, and looking like a well-oiled machine. So far this year the Rush have shown why they should be everyone’s #1.
#2 – Colorado Mammoth (3) – The Mammoth look solid on O, D, in Transition and during all the smaller points of a game. Guys play within their roles, they focus on the ball, and they play smart lacrosse. Colorado doesn’t generate a ton of transition chances, but when they do they are dangerous, and the rest of the time they are smart.
Long possessions by the Mammoth keep the overall number of offensive possessions down per game, Dillon Ward makes the saves he has to (and some he shouldn’t), and Colorado continues to wear down opponents and win lower scoring games with good settled and deliberate play.
They answer the first three of my questions with vigor, and look like a clear cut Top 3 team right now, but will need to continue to gel and improve if they want to compete for a title and maintain that ranking. Since they’re undefeated, they take over the #2 slot for now.
#3 – Rochester Knighthawks (2) – Sure, Rochester just lost a game, but they looked mighty good doing so, and truly forced Georgia to earn the W in what was a “must-win” game for the Swarm. Rochester is still a complete team, and I love their defensive group, as well as Matt Vinc. Vinc is playing some unreal lacrosse early in the season, even in the loss he was remarkable.
Jake Withers was not as successful as he has been, but my guess is the rookie uses this past week as a learning experience.
As I said last week, the only real question mark for Rochester is when the offense will TRULY start clicking. It hasn’t quite yet, but when it does watch out. They are close, but it may take another week or two for the full arsenal to truly deploy.
#4 – Georgia Swarm (6) – The Swarm continued to create good offensive looks and this time they did so against the best defensive group and goalie that the NLL has right now. On top of that, they also scored some goals! In order to jump up in my rankings, Georgia needed to win a game, and doing so against Rochester was what I needed to see.
Lyle Thompson was back to his old tricks and finding corners, and the much of the rest of the Swarm O followed suit. Randy Staats is still having some trouble converting shots into goals, but progress is being made, and the goals will start to drop. Mike Poulin was great in cage even though Georgia left him out to dry a couple times, and Mitch Belisle was great doing color commentary on NLLTV.com. Great to have Mitch in the booth!
#5 – New England Black Wolves (4) – The Black Wolves showed a strong presence in all three phases of the game on Saturday, and have shown flashes of it all season long, but their problem is consistency right now, and until they figure it out it could be an up and down season for New England. At times the NEBW offense looks deadly, creating chances and causing havoc, but at other times they look downright discombobulated. The Black Wolves did a good job of coming around screens to catch and shoot off of cross floor passes, but their inside and on ball two-man game was lacking.
Of course, offensive consistency can take time, and NEBW have looked better as games have gone on. This makes me positive about their trending, but New England has work to do. The same can be said for their defense as this group is usually on the same page, but does suffer some serious break downs from time to time. New England’s focus right now has to be on playing complete games and paying attention to the little things at all times.
#6 – Toronto Rock (7) – From the get go, the Rock looked different in their game of the season. They scored transition goals, pushed the tempo, and created chaos all over the floor.
They got really good production and settled possessions from their offensive group, but their at times dogged forecheck and willingness to push transition chances put them over the top, and earned the Rock their first win of the year. Challen Rogers and Dan Craig added oomph to the Rock, Brad Kri played tough and selfless and Brock Sorenson stood up as a model of physical play for the D.
The Rock just played box on Saturday night. They played with passion and let the game come to them. They gave up some transition here and there, and had to earn the win, but that’s how they need to play all the time. Loose, confident, dogged, and smooth. That’s Rock lacrosse and if Toronto keeps it up, my darkhorse prediction of Toronto taking it all looks a little better. So thanks guys!
#7 – Buffalo Bandits (5) – When the Bandits put it all together, they look like one heck of a team, but so far we’ve seen things fall apart in one way or another far too often this early in the season. This past weekend, the Bandits pulled their goalie when they went down early, and while they made a game of it at times, Toronto was able to dictate play more often than not and Buffalo never really looked like they were all on the same page.
Callum Crawford was a huge presence, and Josh Byrne looked more comfortable, but Buffalo still seems to be struggling to find their offensive mojo on a truly consistent basis. Some possessions just looked a little haphazard, which is hard to believe with all that talent out there! Buffalo is big on O, athletic, and can straight up shoot the ball. It hasn’t come together yet, but it could, and realistically, it might have to.
Buffalo’s defense is good, but having some issues right now, and it seems to start in goal. There seems to be a disconnect between the keepers and defensive group, and this can be a tough dynamic to overcome. Maybe Zach Higgins will get the starting nod now, but whomever is in goal notwithstanding, the issue of defensive cohesion and confidence remains.
#8 – Calgary Roughnecks (8) – One word comes to mind when I think of Calgary right now and it is frustration. After scoring a franchise record low six goals on opening weekend, the Roughnecks only scored seven goals against Colorado on Friday.
So many shots hit defenders in legs, missed the cage, or hit Ward in the pads. It was tough to watch at times, and while a part of me felt if they just kept shooting they would score, another part of me wasn’t buying the ball movement and shot selection. As it turns out, the latter concern was valid. We just haven not seen the whirling dervish of offensive excitement that Calgary should be producing. The potential is certainly there, but the trend is not positive right now.
At this point, I don’t believe Calgary can worry about it so much. They just need to go out and play, stop forcing plays/shots, and have fun. Guarantee we see a different Calgary the next time they hit the floor. If we don’t, it puts the Roughnecks in tough spot early on. Great to hear Geoff Snider in the booth providing color. The man KNOWS this sport, and he KNOWS the league. Priceless insight delivered all game long, and some low-key humor. Great stuff!
#9 – Vancouver Stealth (9) – Last week I said the Stealth needed to play with more passion, and they certainly did so against New England. In the early minutes, they dominated play and generated a ton of good chances. Unfortunately, they only scored two goals, and then NEBW went on a 6 goal run to put their own stake in the game.
Vancouver regrouped, scored a run of hard-nosed goals of their own, and we had a game on our hands! Another NEBW run put the game out of reach, but even with Logan Schuss, the Stealth looked better than they had in previous games. They played with fire and they played physically. The defense really gave it to Shawn Evans all night long, and if they can bring that intensity to a full 60 minutes, they can win games. Vancouver may be 0-3, but they looked much more hungry and competitive this week.