After a good home win against the Rochester Knighthawks, the Georgia Swarm had a bad home loss against the Saskatchewan Rush to fall to 1-3 in the 2017-18 season. There’s no rest for the weary as Georgia goes westward to take on the Calgary Roughnecks.
The Riggers are having their fair share of troubles as well as they also sport a record of 1-3. Calgary’s lone win came at home, too. It took down the Vancouver Stealth in Week 2 with a 15-12 victory. But almost a month removed from that game and not having a win in that time is tough, and probably the best medicine anyone could prescribe Calgary is a team with the same record that it has had success against at home. But the problem with facing a team going through similar struggles is that panacea can work the other way. Georgia needs a win, too, and there are some factors which lean more in its favor than in the Roughnecks’.
Every week’s important in an 18-game season, but Saturday’s will carry a bit more weight than normal as both teams will desperately be avoiding a 1-4 start. For Calgary, that means turning in a game like it did in Week 2 when it bested Vancouver. For Georgia, that means getting everyone in on the scoring act. And for both, it means…
Maybe Don’t Take a Seat
It’s a little odd to be saying you don’t want a power play opportunity, but being man-up hasn’t really worked for the Riggers and Swarm, something that will tie into another Quick Sting later. They sit 7th and 8th respectively in power play record, with only the Vancouver Stealth sitting lower.
Converting 35.3% (CGY) and 29.4% (GA) of your opportunities isn’t optimal, but at least both teams are doing some good work killing penalties. Both have killed half of opponent’s power play chances. But since this game is going to be played in Scotiabank Saddledome, let’s focus on some home and road numbers for the respective teams.
Calgary has played two home games so far this season. On the man-up, it has converted four of its nine chances, or 44.4%. When killing penalties at home, Calgary has downed seven of its 13, so a PK of 53.8%. Those sound better for the Roughnecks until you look at Georgia’s road power play numbers. On the road, Georgia has scored three PPGs on seven chances, or 42.9% (compared to its overall 29.4%). But killing penalties is when the Swarm shines on the road. It only has four road man-down situations to its name this season (all against Colorado), but Georgia has killed every one of them.
If you’re a Swarm fan, you never want to see blue and yellow in the penalty box. But it wouldn’t be the end of the world if a player ended up there as the small sample size points in Georgia’s favor. Really, Calgary doesn’t want to end up in the box since the Swarm has more success on power plays on the road than it does at home. I couldn’t tell you how important the power play is going to be this game as Calgary is averaging 10.25 PIM/GAME (12 PIM/GAME at home) and Georgia is averaging a league-low 6.25 PIM/GAME (4 PIM/GAME on the road), but small sample sizes lean the Swarm’s way. It’s nice to have something leaning one way or another, because both teams are in…
Similar Boats Defensively
The craziness of how similar these two teams are four games into a season is weird, but one facet really sticks out to me. It’s not the 1-3 records that Calgary and Georgia share, nor is it the fact that both teams are 1-1 at home. It’s also not the similar power play and penalty kill numbers we just touched on (averages, not splits). The SOG are within two of each other, CAL with 198 and GA with 196, but that still doesn’t confuse me. Nope, it’s the defenses, oddly enough. Calgary has allowed 53 GA through four games, and Georgia has allowed 51 GA through four.
Those numbers are a little baffling to me. Without even looking, I would have argued the Swarm defense has been way better that the Roughnecks’. But really, Calgary had one bad game, its season opener against Rochester where it lost 17-6. Since then, it’s given up 12, 11, and 13 goals. The Swarm, meanwhile, has allowed 13, 14, 11, and 13. The fact of the matter is that one 17 GA-game was not typical of Calgary’s defense. It currently sports a 13.25 GA/GAME, and the Swarm has a 12.75 GA/GAME.
Between the pipes, Georgia has stuck with Mike Poulin for 239:59 min. (let’s say 240 for brevity’s sake). Over 240 min., Poulin has made 156 saves and sports a .757 SV%. For Calgary, Frank Scigliano has spent the most time in front of the net, 198:57 min. to be exact. His 13.27 GAA is complimented by 150 saves and a .773 SV%. Christian Del Bianco is the Roughnecks’ other goaltender, and he has a 13.15 GAA and .625 SV% in 41:03 min. of action.
Notice anything weird about those numbers? How about that Scigliano nearly has as many saves as Poulin does, but he’s almost achieved that number in over 40 min. less than Poulin did. That number is what was sticking in my craw and telling me something didn’t add up between these two teams. Scigliano has taken .975 SOGA/min. (shots on goal against per min.) compared to Poulin’s .866 SOGA/min. That comes out to an average of 58.5 SOGA for Scigliano and 51.96 SOGA for Poulin. Compare that to the team SOGA/GAME. In four games, Georgia has taken 207 SOGA and Calgary 218 SOGA. Those average out to 51.75 SOGA/GAME and 54.5 SOGA/GAME. So Poulin is at his team average (makes sense considering he’s been the only one between the pipes all season for the Swarm except for one second), but Scigliano sits above his team average by +4 SOGA. Whenever Scigliano is between the pipes, the defense in front of him is more porous and making him have to work more. Look at how the Roughnecks D plays in front of Del Bianco: he’s taking .585 SOGA/min. when he’s between the pipes, which comes out to 35.1 SOGA/GAME. Granted, Del Bianco wasn’t goaltending for very long in two of the games he’s been on the floor (more small sample sizes rearing its head again), but that’s still a telling stat when your defense plays better in front of one goaltender than it does another. That’s something the Swarm O will have to try and capitalize on. Or it should, but again with both teams, there has been an unfortunate case of…
Georgia averaged 14.77 GF/GAME during the 2017 season. Calgary averaged 11.78 during the same season. Right now, Georgia sits at 11.25 GF/GAME and Calgary sports a 9 GF/GAME. Both team’s top scorers from last year are producing at lower paces, too. Lyle Thompson has 21 points (7G, 14A) so far, so he averages out to 5.25 PF/GAME; last season’s MVP-campaign saw him produce a 6.44 PF/GAME. One of the best players in the NLL, Curtis Dickson, leads Calgary’s offense again this year, but he only has 13 (7G, 6A) points to his name. Considering he produced 5.94 PF/GAME last season, his current 3.25 PF/GAME rate is shocking.
“There are a few guys around the league that are raising some eyebrows that were pretty solid 100-point players or close to it and are struggling,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said about star NLL players like Dickson struggling early in the season. “Part of that, I think, is goaltending and defenses are continuing to improve. Early in the season, a lot of these teams have made some changes to their rosters, and those things have to sort themselves out. But you certainly know good players like Curtis Dickson and other guys around the league are not going to stay with those low numbers for long. They’re certainly five, six, seven-points-a-game guys, and you know they’re going to get back there.
“We’ll have to do our best to let that happen after this weekend, but not this weekend.”
Stars that may have started off slow are more than likely going to buck their slow trends and get back to the level of performance we’ve come to expect, but right now it’s more of a matter of when, not if. It’s the same as the first Quick Sting when I touched on power play chances and how poorly Calgary and Georgia have been at scoring while man-up. These two teams are too good and have too much talent to be where they are currently at, and some trends will have to snap back in place for them to prove that to everyone else. But until then, this is the reality we’re stuck in: the Calgary and Georgia offenses are not playing up to their own standards.
One thing the Swarm can boast that the Roughnecks cannot is that Georgia has five players with double digits in points. Calgary has three, and two of them (Dane Dobbie and Wes Berg) sit at 10 apiece. Neither team’s offense may be firing on the same levels as last season, but the Swarm is at least featuring some of the strong scoring diversity it was known for. Coupled with the defensive edge I’d throw Georgia’s way, Calgary has its work cut out for it. Five games, small sample sizes and all that, but a 1-4 start might be a killer for it, especially considering…
The Schism in the West Division
We all know there are nine teams in the NLL, four of them belonging to the West Division. And if you’re paying attention, you know that right now it’s all Colorado and Saskatchewan. Those two are the only remaining undefeated teams in the league and will be meeting up this Saturday for one of them to end up with its first loss in 2018. Meanwhile, Calgary may be struggling 1-3, but at least its struggles are not as bad as the winless Vancouver Stealth, who got absolutely walloped last Saturday at home.
The good news for the Riggers is that the Mammoth and Rush are clashing. Yeah, one of them will probably widen the gap between it and Calgary, but one of them will get a little closer standing-wise to the Roughnecks with an inevitable loss. Meanwhile, Vancouver travels eastward to take on the 2-2 Buffalo Bandits. A win isn’t impossible and far be it from me saying for certainty what will happen in the NLL, but the odds are not stacked in Vancouver’s favor, especially after last weekend.
The worst thing that could happen for Calgary is it loses this Saturday and Vancouver wins, both of them tied record-wise in the cellar. Being 3.5 games back in a division with Colorado and Saskatchewan is, frankly, scary to imagine. A recurring theme of small sample size, but they’re dominating the NLL so far. But that’s the hand that’s been dealt to the Riggers. Too bad for them they don’t get to enjoy…
The Parity in the East
I know Georgia sitting at the bottom of the East Division standings is a bitter pill to swallow. But there is some good news regarding Georgia’s standing (including the fact that there are 14 games left to play in the season).
Every other East team has two wins and at least a loss. And every one of them plays this weekend. Atop the standings is Rochester and New England, both sitting at 2-1. Rochester gets a doubleheader this weekend, playing Toronto (who’s 2-2 and has some skewed numbers after absolutely demolishing Vancouver last Saturday) on Friday before going home to take on New England Saturday night. Buffalo welcomes the 0-4 Vancouver on Saturday night.
Not every team will win every game, so someone will drop a bit in the standings. I’d argue the Bandits will probably emerge with the win this weekend given Vancouver’s past four games. The Knighthawks can get a good hold on the top spot with two victories and make the Rock 2-3 and the Black Wolves 2-2. Even if it wins just one of those, either the Rock becomes 3-2 or 2-3 and the Black Wolves 3-1 or 2-2. Rochester could potentially lose both and drop to 2-3. While we’re playing this game of what-ifs, the Bandits could be stunned by the Stealth and drop to 2-3. So at worst, Rochester becomes a 4-1 team and Georgia a 1-4 team, but that still means the Rock are 2-3 and the Black Wolves 2-3. That’s way closer than being 1-4 and the next opponent in the standings is 3-1.
Point being, it’s close in the East Division. Georgia is only 1.5 games back from first, but getting back to a playoff berth is going to be difficult considering how clogged up the division is. It can happen, but the men in blue and yellow are certainly going to have to knuckle down and do the little things right to get back to where they and we know they can be.