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Film Room: Killing Penalties

Breaking down the Swarm's efforts on Jan. 31 during 7 minutes of being man-down

Here’s how the thought process for this article went:

Originally, this Film Room was inspired by Swarm head coach Ed Comeau’s comments about Jordan Hall‘s ability to cut inside and how that helped the Swarm O find success (those comments were made in episode 5 of the Swarm Stingcast). After thinking about it and recalling how well Zach Miller also cuts inside, I decided to re-watch the Swarm’s second game against the Philadelphia Wings in 2019-20, taking place at Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 31 (game recap here and you can watch the game on B/R Live here).

One of the things I ended up being reminded of instead was how much fun the match-up between the Swarm’s Connor Sellars and the Wings’ Kevin Crowley was, a great contest where two huge lacrosse players weren’t giving each other any breathing space. It was one of my favorite match-ups of the season, so the story idea shifted to writing about their battle that night.

But that game had a huge moment in it where the Swarm found themselves on the penalty kill for seven minutes at the end of the third quarter. The Swarm were up 10-8 when Randy Staats was assessed with three penalties, two minors (one of which was a coincidental) and a major, and he and the in-home for the Swarm, Matt Dunn, would be stuck in the penalty box for seven minutes (Dunn would’ve exited once the second power play goal of the major penalty was scored, and the major penalty would not have started until one of the minor penalties expired or had a PPG against. Staats would have been stuck in the box for the full nine minutes due to the severity of his penalties).

Seven straight minutes of playing man-down is difficult for a team to escape unscathed from, especially when your defensive depth is also taking a hit with Dunn having to stay in the box during that time. While the Wings did score in that time, it took an incredible play from their captain Kiel Matisz to cash in on one of the potential four goals the Wings could have scored.

This was one of the best games of the Swarm’s season, and the Swarm’s efforts during this time span highlighted the best facets of Swarm lacrosse. How could I not break it down?

It was a potentially game-changing span of time which could have seen the narrative reversed that night and the home team with the win, but that didn’t happen because of the following three things that went right for the Swarm through the final minute of the third quarter and the first six of the fourth quarter.

The Conditioning of Four

Joel White’s return to the Swarm and Bryan Cole playing out the front door created a shift in the Swarm’s typical penalty kill set-up. Manning the crease would be Sellars and Chad Tutton, and White slotted up high with Jordan MacIntosh.

Those four had their conditioning severely tested at the beginning of the penalty kill, as they were out almost nonstop for the first 2:20 min. Even with a break in there due to the third quarter ending and the power play goal from Matisz in the first shift of the fourth quarter, that’s an exhausting run of constant man-down defense to play (see for yourself).

Players have remarked about how playing man-down constantly wears you down. Factor in having to play consecutive shifts where you’re constantly adjusting between multiple assignments in a disadvantageous situation, and it makes the efforts from the Swarm’s star penalty kill line all the more impressive. 

What MacIntosh, Sellars, Tutton, and White did then also paid dividends later on down the line. Adam Wiedemann would end up playing in Tutton’s spot towards the end of the seven minutes, but those four were giving the rest of the Swarm’s defensive bench a breather, helping the Swarm hold on and make key stops as the Wings tried their hardest to rally and stay perfect at home up to that point.

Side note, that goal from Matisz was arguably a blessing in disguise for the Swarm. When he scored, it erased one of Staats’ minor penalties and the 21 seconds left on it. Even though he and Dunn remained in the box, that’s practically a defensive shift the Swarm wouldn’t have to play thanks to the Wings’ captain’s slick stick skills.

Hall Draws a Penalty

Sometimes you’ve just got to take one for the team.

As much as that looked like it hurt, Hall getting cross-checked in the chin by Anthony Joaquim was probably the best thing that could have happened for the Swarm during this time. Joaquim spent two minutes in the box, and the Swarm and Wings played some four-on-four lacrosse for two minutes. It seems small, but playing even – even in this fashion – is a huge break for the Swarm defense and allows the offense to put some pressure on the Wings for a time.

Killing penalties is a balancing act. Ideally, you’re stopping that first defensive shift and transitioning to offense. Once your four forwards are out, the hope is they waste as much of a 30-second shot clock as possible (if they score a shorthanded goal, then that’s icing on the cake). A quick repeat, and that’s a minor penalty killed.  

For the Swarm, that unfortunately wasn’t happening early in the seven minutes of being man-down. This shift was the first time the Swarm were able to get the offense out, and Hall drawing that penalty extended the time the offense would be on the floor, giving the Swarm penalty kill line mentioned above more time to rest up before going back on the floor.

While the Swarm weren’t able to create some separation during this two minutes of four-on-four, the Wings didn’t make any headway in their attempts to tie things up either.

Hug Those Posts

Goalie Mike Poulin displayed some textbook post-play when the Swarm were man-down. The Wings were really trying to take advantage of him hugging the red uprights with some quick side-to-side passing, but Poulin was adept at springing from one bar to the other. 

Whether it was early in the penalty kill…

…where Poulin tightly slid to stop a west-to-east attempt that Josh Currier was trying to cash in on, or whether it was at the end of the kill…

…where a skip pass that Cory Vitarelli couldn’t cash in on forced another west-to-east pass that Poulin punched away from the right post, the Wings were trying their best to take advantage of Poulin staying tight on the goal line.

Why was this their course of action? There’s less pressure on their players with the Swarm defense stuck with four defenders, so they quickly pass the ball to help spread the defense apart for some potential quick stick goals. Poulin counteracts this with very quick lateral steps, closing off those windows efficiently.

The Kitchener, Ontario native didn’t step out like he typically would during an even strength opportunity, as that would create larger windows for quick stick goals that he would be too far out to close. The above GIF demonstrates how Poulin touched the goal post to reference where he’s at and measure how far out he was. 

Now during the four-on-four halfway through Staats’ penalties, Poulin was able to go back to his traditional even strength goaltending.

Notice how he stepped out to close off more of the net? He could do this because the Wings forwards were all covered by a Swarm defender, and their shots had a better chance of being outside rips.. That defenseman pressure allowed him to take those steps out since he wouldn’t have to be as concerned about those quick stick opportunities.

The 15-year veteran’s play was agile and intelligent during this time, and coupled with the minor penalty Hall drew early and the extra contributions from MacIntosh, Sellars, Tutton, and White, it’s small wonder the Swarm were able to play as well as they did in a situation that was incredibly favorable for the home team. 

In a half where defenses shone brightly, the Swarm’s efforts across this seven minutes were the star of the half, keeping the Swarm ahead on their way to a consecutive win against the second East Division team ahead of them in the standings at that time.

Georgia Swarm Pro Lacrosse Team