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TORONTO, ON - MAR 11, 2018: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the New England Blackwolves, (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL) Aaron Bold goaltender

Random Thoughts: Thank Your Goaltender, Penalty Shots, Luck O’ the Draw

Rochester is rolling, all of the league’s goaltenders are hot fire, Toronto might need to go fishing, and we can finally look ahead at the 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championship in Netanya, Israel.

After the performances put on this past weekend, it should be “Thank your Goaltender Week” in the NLL. In the three games this weekend, the teams surrendered an average of 8.5 goals each per game. The goals against average this weekend for all 6 goalies combined, 8.33. Prior to this weekend, the average number of goals a team allowed in a game was 12.53.

Any team would have won their game this weekend if their offense had an average performance. You have to feel sorry for Christian Del Bianco and Nick Rose who allowed only 8 goals each, and still get pegged with a loss.

But the best thing about this weekend’s NLL games for the fans was that you had three games, all of which were decided by one goal, and two of which went into overtime. If you were a first time fan of the NLL and tuned into these three games, you would be hooked in an instant.

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While the two games in Colorado and Toronto that finished 8-7 were low scoring affairs, I would far rather watch a close, low-scoring affair any day than I would a high scoring game that ends up 17-12.

TORONTO, ON  - MAR 11,  2018: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the New England Blackwolves, (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL)
Photo: Ryan McCullough / NLL

Yes, you have to give some love to the defenses too. No team the entire weekend managed to get 60 or more shots on goal. They forced an awful lot of shots off target. The average was 25 and no team was lower than 19. But on the flip side of the shots on goal, only one team, Georgia, had under 50 shots on goal. The save percentage between all six goaltenders was a whopping 0.842.

On any given week we normally hope one goaltender achieves that percentage. This week the numbers were:

  • Aaron Bold – 0.879
  • Nick Rose – 0.864
  • Dillon Ward – 0.860
  • Christian Del Bianco – 0.824
  • Mike Poulin – 0.807
  • Matt Vinc – 0.792

It’s not too often you can say a 0.792 save percentage was at the low end of the scale for the week. The league’s three starts this week should be all goalies. And then there was the highlight reel save from Nick Rose, who perhaps it should be fitting to be the Versus challenger, despite how nice the Dickson goal was, just because of the week that the goalies had.

Who Needs to Change Time?

A friendly reminder to everyone out there that we in Saskatchewan are one of the rare smart places in North America that don’t change our clocks for Daylight Savings Time. We’re really not sure why the rest of the continent does (a common excuse is because it helps farmers, yet farmers are kind of central to our economy here, so throw that excuse away).

But what this means is that going forward for the rest of the season, the typical faceoff time for games in Saskatchewan is now 9:30pm EDT, 6:30pm PDT.

When Stats Are Misleading

If you wanted to look at a stat that is terribly misleading at the moment in the NLL, it has to be the goal differential stat. The stat is simple, total goals scored minus total goals allowed. You would normally expect that the teams near the top of this stat are tops in the league and vice versa.

At this point in the system, it’s no surprise that the 1st place Saskatchewan Rush are #1 in this stat and that the last place Vancouver Stealth are 9th in this stat. But where everyone else is in the rankings will throw you for a loop:

  • Saskatchewan: +41 (1st overall)
  • Rochester: +22 (5th overall)
  • Toronto: +20 (6th overall)
  • Colorado: +14 (2nd overall)
  • Buffalo: even (4th overall)
  • Calgary: -6 (8th overall)
  • Georgia: -11 (7th Overall)
  • New England: -27 (3rd overall)
  • Vancouver: -59 (9th overall)

The biggest stunner in the group is New England who is first in the East, 3rd overall, and their goal differential only beats Vancouver. In their six wins to date, three of them have been one-goal wins and two others were two-goal wins. Two of their losses, a 13 goal loss to Saskatchewan and a 12 goal loss to Toronto each on their own are larger than the combined 11 goals their 6 wins have come by.

Calgary Roughnecks vs. Colorado Mammoth at Pepsi Center, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Jack Dempsey for the Colorado Mammoth)
Photo: Jack Dempsey

Colorado who is 8-3 in the standings is just +14 in the goal differential. Four of those wins were by just one goal. They have seven and eight goal wins which brings their number up.

Rochester who has a 0.500 record and Toronto who is below 0.500 are both high up on the list. Toronto’s numbers are all over the place. Their five wins were by differences of 3, 7, 8, 12 and 17. Their losses were by differences of 1, 1, 4, 5, 8 and 8. They’ve only had three tight games out of 11. As for Rochester, other than their win this week, every other win is by at least 5 (5, 7, 7, 10 & 11). Of their 6 losses, only one is by more than 3.

Needless to say, other than for tiebreak purposes, it’s not a case of how many goals you score, but when you score them.

No Player Missed Even More…

The Toronto Rock are averaging 17 goals per game when Tom Schreiber is in the line-up and just 9 when he is missing. It’s pretty obvious just how valuable he is. With Toronto losing 8-7 to New England on Sunday, which pushes the Rock out of a playoff position, and only scoring seven times, you have to wonder whether Jamie Dawick is going to be making the phone calls to try to fix the problem. How desperate he is might depend upon how much longer Schreiber is going to be out of the line-up. If it’s one more week, you don’t panic and you see how things go. If it’s going to be four more weeks, the pressure might be on as four more weeks of the status quo for the Rock offense might put them out of reach for a playoff spot.

TORONTO, ON  - MAR 11,  2018: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the New England Blackwolves, (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL)
Photo: Ryan McCullough / NLL

There are two teams Dawick can look towards at the moment for help. Vancouver’s season is over with at this stage and some temporary help may be available. The other possibility is Saskatchewan who has too many righty forwards once Curtis Knight returns. The problem in getting a trade done may be with what both Saskatchewan and Vancouver would be seeking in return, draft picks. Toronto does not have a 1st round pick or a 3rd round pick this year and in the 2nd round, they hold what was originally Saskatchewan’s 2nd round pick. In 2019 they don’t have a 1st round pick. In 2020, the Rock don’t have a 2nd round pick. The fact that the Rock don’t have many picks in future years will leave a tough decision as to whether they can trade for some help up front.

As for the game itself, other than the outstanding goaltending that came out of both ends, there’s a few mistakes that both teams certainly would want back. Toronto falling asleep in the final 15 seconds of the opening quarter and allowing two late goals put them behind three early, and were playing catch up the rest of the game. The short-handed goal just before that also was catching Latrell Harris completely asleep covering Kevin Buchanan up high and Buchanan blew right past him, caught a pass open in the middle and buried it.

On New England’s side, the thing that surprised me a lot was that with just over two minutes to go, and New England up 7-6, Brett Manney took a checking from behind minor. Twice New England got possession back and twice they shot within the opening 10 seconds of the shot clock. In this case, you need to kill the clock. It ended up giving the Rock an extra possession in the end that Brett Hickey scored on with 20 seconds to go. Had New England not won the game in overtime, you would imagine their faithful getting all over the team because of these possessions.

The one stunning stat in this game was Adam Jones who didn’t have a single point all afternoon, despite taking 14 shots and 11 of them hitting the target. With Jones, it’s just one of those days where nothing goes in. I don’t expect that kind of funk to last long. But I was surprised that Toronto tried to fire the ball over Bold’s left shoulder as often as they did and didn’t go 5-hole nearly as much.

As for New England’s offense, with the insertion of Crawford, they weren’t too badly out of synch that you might expect in his first time out. Perhaps what they were missing from a guy like Shawn Evans in that game was when the Black Wolves went over 30 minutes from late in the 2nd quarter to late in the 4th quarter without a goal, a guy like Evans is normally the spark plug that will try to energize the team and put them on his back to get the momentum going. We will have to see if offensive lulls like that continue for New England.

Mammoth Stay In The Hunt

The Mammoth beat the Roughnecks 8-7 on Saturday night in the only game last week that didn’t go to overtime. Oddly enough, there were more goals scored in the opening quarter (8) than in the final three quarters combined (7). Also, unlike Christian Del Bianco, he allowed three goals in the opening five minutes. But like CDB, he kept the goal total under 10 once again, extending his lead in GAA (9.57) and Save Percentage (0.813).

Oddly enough too, Curtis Dickson scored just once on 18 shots, 15 of which hit the target. But the one that went in was quite the goal. I loved the commentary that came afterwards, with Teddy Jenner trying to encourage kids not to try that move because coaches will kill you if it doesn’t go in and John Grant Jr. giving kids the full endorsement to go ahead and try it.

It was a game where Calgary alternated between a 1 and 2 goal deficit the entire game until Dickson’s goal tied it up, which makes that goal all the more impressive given that he had the guts to try it, down one in a tight defensive battle. Joey Cupido would ultimately win it for the Mammoth with over 9 minutes to go when he kept the ball on a 2 on 1 transition break. Cupido to me is still the most dangerous man in transition in the league. Colorado would hold on for the last nine minutes for a critical win.

With this win, Calgary is almost eliminated from any shot of a home playoff game in the West Division playoffs. They are now a full four games behind Colorado for 2nd place and Colorado has the tiebreak, with seven games to go for both teams. But more importantly, Colorado stays in the hunt for 1st in the West. As much as many people’s intuition is that the Rush have this locked up, it’s not improbable that the Mammoth take first place if they beat the Rush in Saskatoon in early April.

Rochester Keeps Rolling…

Rochester won its fourth in a row with an 11-10 overtime win over Georgia on Saturday night with Kyle Jackson scoring the winner 90 seconds into the extra frame. With the win and the Rock loss, Rochester, for now, slides into a playoff spot. But in the crazy East, they’re one game out of first, a half game out of 2nd, and a half game out of being out of the playoffs.

The goal of the night in this game was a swim move with the non-stick arm by Cody Jamieson, who then lobbed a pass off the boards behind the net so Josh Currier could run onto it and dunk it behind Mike Poulin.

The loss puts Georgia in a bind in more ways than one. They are still in last place, but further behind the pack. They are now a full game out of the playoffs, but even worse, they won’t have the tiebreak against Rochester at the end of the season, who has that third spot. With all the promise Georgia showed last year, it’s a real possibility they might not even make the playoffs to even defend their title.

Georgia Swarm Photo By Micheline V/ Rochester Knighthawks
Photo: Micheline V / Rochester Knighthawks

Penalty Shots

Last week I spoke about how minor penalties might be too penalizing with so many teams over 50% efficiency.

But here’s the flipside to that.

So far this year there have been six penalty shots awarded, and only one was scored on. To be honest, given that efficiency rate, in most cases, I would rather be on the power play for two minutes than getting a penalty shot. The only time I would consider the penalty shot as advantageous was if it was late in the game and I was down a few goals, so I needed to score quickly. In most cases, a penalty shot is awarded for something that has more immediacy of a goal being scored than a typical minor penalty.

Therefore, the penalty should be slightly more penalizing, instead of significantly less, which is what is happening right now. At the very least, the non-offending team should be given the choice of the minor penalty or the penalty shot.

Attendance Update

All three games this week saw an uptick in the average attendance. In Toronto’s case, having a Sunday afternoon game and have 10,259 in attendance was a good sign. Colorado had 15,034 in attendance on Saturday night. That increases their average for the year to 13,343 and second best in the league. Rochester had an above average night with 7,214. It’s a decent result, although if they keep the winning streak alive, I would hope those numbers continue to rise.

Weekly Picks

I was an overtime in Toronto away from a perfect week, but a 2-1 week gives me an overall record of 30-21. There’s a lot of tough picks this week which could throw anyone for a loop in either direction.

Saskatchewan over Buffalo – Buffalo’s chances in this game are reliant on Shawn Evans melding with the rest of the Bandits offense, something that was missing a week ago. Both teams are coming off a bye week so no advantage gained for either side. This is still a case of picking the Rush unless you have some serious reason to believe they won’t win.

Toronto over New England – Sunday’s game really doesn’t give you much of an indication as to whom to pick in this game, and I’ve gone back and forth on this pick a few times. You have to think of two critical factors. Which goaltender can have the same great game a second week ago? The odds say it’s Nick Rose. Which offense has the best odds for improvement? To me it’s the Rock. Plus in this East Division, anytime somebody gains the lead outright, they’re bound to hit the skids.

Calgary over Rochester – I’m probably going against the grain here. But Calgary plays far better at home. This one is strictly a gut call in what I see as another defensive struggle.
Colorado over Vancouver – This is the easiest pick of the week. Colorado stays in the hunt for 1st in the West with a win here.

Buffalo over Georgia – Even though it’s Buffalo’s second game of the weekend, from a Friday evening to a late Sunday afternoon game isn’t the short transition times most teams are used to on doubleheader weekends. The last time Georgia played on a Sunday afternoon at home, it was a disaster. Hopefully by this time Evans has learned the offense and things are clicking.

World Championships Schedule

The draw and schedule for the 2018 FIL Men’s World Championships is finally out. It’s never easy to organize so many teams, which in part will be solved when the field is reduced to 32 teams for 2022. But every world championships since 2006 has needed its own road map to follow just where teams paths will go in the tournament. Connor Wilson does a good job trying to navigate the complexities of the draw.

To make this as simple as possible, the road to the championship works like this. The top 6 teams always play in the Blue Group. Based on the results of the 2014 championships, those six teams are Canada, USA, Iroquois, Australia, England and for the first time, Scotland, who replaces Japan who has held this spot for a very long time. These six teams will play a round robin and at the end of the round robin, the following occurs:

  • The top 2 teams go directly to the semi-finals
  • The 3rd & 4th place teams go to the quarter-finals
  • The 5th & 6th place teams go into the placement rounds

For the 5th and 6th place teams, they would have to win two straight games to get back into the Blue Division for 2022. For teams such as England and Scotland, unless they pull off a major upset, this is about as good of a result as they can expect. With the emergence of Israel, and them playing on home soil, Israel has a reasonable chance of cracking that top 6.

Scotland lacrosse 2014 world lacrosse championship denver

For the other 42 countries in the tournament, everyone technically has a shot at the title. They’re broken into 14 groups of three, and those first two games of group play will have a major determination on your future in the tournament. The 14 group winners then begin a playoff (two teams receiving first round byes), which ultimately leads to two of those 14 teams emerging and playing a quarter-final game against the 3rd and 4th place teams in the Blue Group. If they lose the quarter-final, they fall back into the placement brackets as well.

The simplicity is that unless there are major upsets, Canada and the USA will finish 1 and 2 in some order and go to the semi-finals. The Iroquois and Australia will finish 3 and 4 in some order and go to the quarter-finals. You would expect that their opponents will be Israel and Japan barring any upsets.

Outside of the road to the title, you truly need a road map to figure everything out. It’s terribly complex. The first two games are critically important because if you finish 3rd in your group, the best you can do is 25th even if you win every game the rest of the way.

Poor, Bermuda.

Unfortunately for Bermuda, the draw is a rough one. The way the draw worked for everyone outside the top 6 was that it was done by where you finished at the 2014 worlds, in a snake draw format. So Israel, that finished 7th, was the top seed in the first group (Red), Japan that finished 8th was the top seed in the second group (White) and so on. Any team that wasn’t at the 2014 championships or is making their debut, were placed randomly into the #3 slots in each group.

bermuda lacrosse
Photo: Bermuda Lacrosse

This is where things are rough for Bermuda. The top seed in their group is Wales (17th). Bermuda is the second seed (24th). The random newcomer to their group is Puerto Rico, which in my opinion, was by far and away the best of the first time nations. Wales finished 4th at the 2016 European Championships.

Getting a win out of the opening two games will be quite difficult for Bermuda. Hopefully they can pull one win off and avoid playing in the bottom placement draws.

Now the stage is set. If you have the time this summer, I would highly encourage you to watch games amongst the minnow nations. No, the talent isn’t going to be the same as in a USA vs. Canada game. None of the players on those teams would even get an invite to a training camp for any of the top four teams. But you’ll get to see firsthand lacrosse developing at its highest stages for these nations who are working their butts off to grow the game in a country where lacrosse is hardly known about. And you’ll get to see some unique traditions on the field and some unique celebrations happening.

Many of these countries come to the worlds knowing they have no shot at winning a medal, but they are there to be a part of the excitement and to develop their game in the best way they can.

I can’t wait for it to all begin. The Bermuda shorts will be well adapted for the hot Israeli desert.

Until next time…

For all the latest, be sure to follow me on Twitter @evanschemenauer.

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