Weekend Of Surprises – NLL Lessons Learned
Friday night’s NLL tilt featuring Toronto and Rochester kicked the weekend off in a surprising way, and it only continued from there. While we saw some results play out as most would predict, each game had at least one big surprising aspect to it. Game by game, here are some of the big highlights and surprising moments from what proved to be a fun, telling, and exciting Week 6.
Toronto Outguns Rochester
I was expecting a close game here, and I actually picked Rochester to win this game 14-12. It’s not surprising that I was wrong, as I had a hard time picking a winner for this one, but the Rock to basically walk away with this one 17-9. I didn’t see Matt Vinc getting pulled for Angus Goodleaf (who played quite well in relief). I didn’t see the Rock generating so many high quality shots early on, but I was surprised they canned so many of them.
The Rock can really shoot the ball, but they showed that they can also create those shooting opportunities with consistency, as this marks 2 weeks in a row where they have been moving the ball seamlessly and keeping everyone dangerous. A prime example of this is the NLLTV announcers (Stamp and Shanny) remarking that it looked like Toronto was trying to get Rob Hellyer a goal, and then they did. They are imposing their will on people offensively as well as they are taking what other teams give them, and the Rock look super polished now on offense.
I thought this was what we would see this year, and it’s why I picked Toronto as my preseason darkhorse to win it all this year. I almost jumped off the train after that 0-2 start, but since then they’ve really picked it up and I’m back on board without any reservations. I mean, I have reservations, or a ticket. I’m on the Toronto train.
I liked the Toronto D as well, and I thought they did a great job on draws because even when Whithers won the clamp or the draw, Toronto often came away with the ball. It’s another example of complete team play, and it bodes well for the long-term to see the Rock doing that now.
Biggest Questions: The Rock D was good, but what was going on with Rochester’s offense? The timing on picks seemed off, and it just seemed a little disjointed at times. Players seemed to stand and watch, or wait for the ball, more than they have been this year. The Rochester offense definitely took a step back in this game, which was weird to see from a team that had been flying high on the O end for so long.
Also, Rochester really missed having Billy Dee Smith out there on defense. The man is a force. That’s not really a question, but it’s true. Such is life.
New England ALSO Drops Rochester
I didn’t see Rochester losing both of their games this weekends, and after the Knighthawks dropped their game with Toronto, I figured they’d be headed for a win at home. New England had other ideas and won a hard fought 9-8 road game to improve their record to 3-1, which has them now sitting atop the Eastern Conference. While Rochester losing two in one weekend is what surprises me the most, New England really deserves all the credit in this game, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit.
No player scored more than two goals for New England, but Shawn Evans and Stephen LeBlanc provided plenty of opportunity creation, on the right and left respectively, and each played finished with six points on the night. Aaron Bold was excellent in net, and the Black Wolves defense did a great job of keeping Rochester unsettled on offense all night long.
For any team looking to take down Rochester right now, it seems like they are struggling with a pressure defense that extends out on the forecheck/ride, but then sinks in a bit more when it’s settled, and for the most part only gives up outside shots. Rochester was rarely able to effectively get inside on New England, and this allowed the Black Wolves to escape with a win against Rochester’s potentially deadly offense, even though they didn’t score double digit goals. While Toronto scored a lot more on Friday, their key to victory was also their defensive approach to handling Rochester.
Biggest Question: Why does Rochester’s two-man game seem so off right now? Is it just their opponents, or is it something Rochester is or isn’t doing? And when is this going to be fixed?
It’s not like I thought Vancouver was going to be winless this year. I did NOT think that. But, I also did not think this would be the game where the Stealth earned their first win, and yet, they did just that. I was originally going to watch the Roch-NEBW game live, but during a commercial I flipped over to the Vancouver vs Buffalo game, and when I saw the 3-0 score in favor of Buffalo I had immediate flashbacks to Vancouver’s game last week against Toronto where they went down big, and then continued to get scored on for about 3 straight quarters. Thankfully, I kept watching, and what I saw was awesome.
Tip of the hat to Vancouver for this W. No one believed in them except them, and they pulled together, played hard, and scored greasy goals over a full 60 minute effort. I say 60 minutes even though this game went to OT because I’m chopping off the first couple minutes where they went down 3-0. After that, Vancouver played confident, tough, team lacrosse and it was a lot of fun to watch. I ended up watching the Rochester-NEBW game on replay instead of live because I stuck with the Stealth game, and I’m glad I did.
Buffalo looked pretty good in a lot of ways, and this way in no way a “down” game for Buffalo. The Stealth simply played well and EARNED the win on the road. Logan Schuss had a big night which surprised no one, but Corey Small finally broke out of his slump and put up 8 points on 4 goals and 4 assists. Small looked like a man possessed all night, but also let the game come to him, and if he can keep it up, it gives Vancouver another go to guy, which they desperately needed.
Big Question: Where does Vancouver go from here? Can they build on this win, or will they slip back to where they were weeks before? I believe they’ll keep playing hard, but will it result in more wins? A big test with the Mammoth looms large.
Rush Offer Zero Surprises
Early on I was surprised with the Rush, and how mid-season they looked even though it was early on. Now we are approaching the start of the mid-season, so it doesn’t surprise me that a team that was flying high is still doing so.
The Rush are the #1 team in the NLL right now, and no one else is really even close.
Colorado is REALLY good, and they are a top tier team. At this point, none of this is a surprise.
Big Question: At 4-0 and dominating, the Rush look pretty unbeatable. BUT this is the NLL, and going undefeated is just not something that happens very often. Can we talk about this yet? Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I don’t see the Rush going 8-0 but with Buffalo, Calgary, Colorado, and Vancouver coming up, I can’t rule it out. I guess I’m just curious to see who, if anyone, can beat the Rush?
Georgia Gets The Job Done
I guess the Swarm winning isn’t really a surprise, but I’ll tell you what is – Georgia is 2-3 and only averaging 12 goals per game. Now, 12 GPG ain’t bad, but from the Swarm it’s a lot less than I was expecting.
Last year’s offense saw the Swarm score almost 15 goals per game, and for a group that returns so much I’m a little confused by this. I know we are still in the first third of the season, and production can pick up and change the current average, but when I look at how well-oiled the Rush look, I can’t help but ask what’s going on in Georgia.
In some of their games, the Swarm have created a lot of good looks, but they just haven’t been falling. In other games, the looks themselves have been even harder to come by, so players have had to do more on their own. With the talent Georgia has on their roster, this isn’t always a problem. Guys like Lyle Thompson can create goals out of nothing. But for Georgia to see more success in the win-loss column, they will need to find a better balance here. I do think it will come eventually. How could it not?
Biggest Question: Calgary is coming close a lot of times, so what is going to put them over the edge to the point where they start winning these games?
At this point in the season, the Rush have set the highest standard and everyone else is just chasing their lead. Colorado looks good, and has been consistent all year. Toronto looked bad early on, but has since pulled a complete 180 and gotten back to “contender” status quickly. That’s good because I picked them preseason to win it all and I’m sticking with it.
Buffalo, New England, Rochester, and Georgia have all shown moments of greatness, and Calgary and Vancouver seem to be coming to life more and more as the weeks wear on.
We will see most of the teams come together to form a “middle pack” as they revert to their mean, and then expand again out into playoff teams and those staying home. Keep an eye on the action each week, and watch some great lacrosse games. You might think you know what is going to happen, but there’s a good chance you’ll be wrong.
That’s what makes it so interesting! Well, that and the skill on display each night. Enjoy!