It’s not been the start to the 2017-18 season that the Georgia Swarm wanted. Falling to 0-2 is a hole the Swarm now looks to climb out of as it returns home this Sat., Dec. 30. The many festivities of the night (2 Chainz! Rings! Banners!) are going to be enjoyable for fans and players alike, but the Swarm want that elusive first win. Win once, and you have a streak going. Unfortunately, Georgia has to welcome one of the hottest teams in the NLL to its home opener, but to be the best, you got to beat the best.
The Rochester Knighthawks have started the season off in as impressive a fashion as possible. With a goal differential of +21 over two games, the Knighthawks are operating like a well-tuned machine right now. Beating them is a nice feather in the cap, and the defending champs know it and want that feather.
Even with Christmas having passed by, I’m sure I can find some cheer left over for this Hive Five. Positive thinking is going to be needed if Georgia aims to pull itself up by its bootstraps, so let’s get positive with…
Some Records and Hip Hop and Rings
Georgia and Rochester have played four times in 2017, one of those games a preseason one. During the regular season, the Swarm took two of the three games, falling 9-8 in the final game of the season. Georgia already clinched the best record in that time, and Rochester was already eliminated from playoff contention, but it was still a good defensive battle between the two teams, decided by an empty netter which beat the final buzzer to let the Knighthawks end the season on a good note. The preseason game was a Georgia victory, 12-5. While both teams didn’t have all its players on the floor, they did feature close to the what was planned to take the floor during the regular season, and the results were good for Georgia. Mike Poulin looked good between the pipes, not allowing a goal for 29 straight minutes. Rochester was only able to find the back of the net twice in the first three quarters. It was preseason, so let’s not read too much into it, especially considering how good the Knighthawks have been their first two games. But it can’t be ignored that Georgia has had a strong amount of success against Rochester in 2017.
And the Swarm will count on that success and a home return for its first victory of the year. Beating one of the hottest teams in the NLL right now would be a great panacea to get Georgia back on track, and the icing on that cake will be the halftime performance by Atlanta-based GRAMMY® Award-winning hip hop artist 2 Chainz and a ring ceremony for the defending champs.
Good beats and shiny bling are awesome, no doubt, but winning solves all problems. The Swarm coaches will lead the players as best they can towards that goal, knowing full well the challenge that awaits them in the…
Best Defense in the League
It may feel early to say something like that, but numbers don’t lie, and neither will your eyes if you’ve watched Rochester play this season. The Knighthawks have the best defense in the league. Full stop. Every team has played two games by now, and Rochester has allowed the least amount of goals against with 17. Colorado is a close number two with 19, and Saskatchewan rounds out the top three with 20.
And for Rochester, it’s (almost) all between the pipes. Matt Vinc has been nothing short of phenomenal. He leads in all the positive goalie league stats, tied for most wins at two, lowest GAA at 8.50, most saves with 95, and a jaw-dropping .848 SV%. That dude has been kryptonite for some of the NLL’s most prolific scorers, but that’s not enough for the Knighthawks. It features the third best penalty kill unit in the league (77.78%) and takes more than the league average when it comes to shots allowed (56; league average is 53.39). Opponents actually beat the team in the loose ball game, outpacing Rochester 162-144 (courtesy of Buffalo’s high 93 scooped up last week). But dominating on face-offs thanks to rookie Jake Withers (30-for-41, a 73.17 W%) and some beautiful saves from Vinc is all the Knighthawks need to get the ball back and do its offensive damage.
Going back to the top three defenses, there’s a jump between third and fourth, but it’s a positive jump for the Swarm as Georgia sits pretty there with 27 goals against this season. I know it might not feel like it with two losses after having the lead earlier in the game, but Georgia’s defense is performing well for significant portions of its games. Yet, what’s the point of having a great defense if…
You Keep Losing the Lead?
I spoke with Mike Poulin after the game Saturday night. He’s a true professional and a great guy to talk to, so it was kind of odd to hear the frustrated tone in his voice. He knows the team has its second half woes and willingly shouldered that blame. But that’s not fair to him considering there’s five other teammates on the floor and how exceptional he was for the first 45 minutes.
One can make the excuse that the first game against the Black Wolves was missing captain Jordan MacIntosh to lead the squad and note how Ethan O’Connor and Chad Tutton are both out of the lineup. And it isn’t like New England came roaring back; it just seemed that way given they didn’t score once in the second quarter. But Colorado is a different story. MacIntosh was back and was definitely a factor on the floor, scooping up 8 LB and getting 3 CT. The defense thrived in the first three quarters, keeping Colorado to a low seven goals during that span. But that fourth quarter was just a letdown for the Swarm defense as Colorado was able to get loose balls regularly and make those possessions count. Seven goals in one quarter is a good indicator that a team is in total control, and unfortunately on Saturday, that team wasn’t wearing blue and yellow.
One other thing to note is how Georgia’s offense has waned drastically in the final 30 minutes. Last week’s game in Colorado saw Georgia spread out six goals in two quarters, but there was a six-goal gap in there thanks to the Mammoth onslaught. Assistant captain Shayne Jackson bookended Colorado’s run, but that last goal of the game came with nine seconds left and was on a power play. Colorado had enough of a lead to give up one. The game before was arguably worse for the offense. After starting off with five goals in the first quarter, Georgia scored three in the second, two in the third, and one in the fourth (also courtesy of Jackson). Credit to New England and Colorado’s defense and goaltending for holding the Swarm offense back like that, but it almost felt like the men in blue and yellow were just out of gas. And that is a tank that needs to be full and then some, especially considering Rochester…
Does Not Let Up
That’s a key reason why the Knighthawks look like the best team in the NLL right now. 38 goals in two games is stunning, but having 14 different players find the back of the net in that span is probably even more incredible. That’s spreading the ball around and everyone contributing. Rochester’s tied-for-fifth best scorer is Scott Campbell at eight points (3G, 5A). He’s a defenseman. This is the Swarm in April of 2017 firing on all cylinders right now.
I know this feels like it parroted the second Quick Sting a bit, but I cannot undersell how good Rochester looks right now. I’m personally not a big fan of one-sided games (which is why I’ll argue the GAvsCOL game last Saturday was the best NLL game so far this season despite the outcome), and watching the Knighthawks down the Roughnecks and Bandits handily was borderline boring. Rochester finished fourth in the East Division last season, but it’s not like either of its opponents this year rolled out a B-team. Calgary’s best players like Curtis Dickson and Holden Cattoni and Wes Berg could not gain any traction. Buffalo’s Dhane Smith was held to four points (1G, 3A) and Mitch Jones was the only player making a dent in Rochester’s armor as he finished with five points (3G, 2A). The Knighthawks are having the best thrown at them and are handling them with ease. Again, I cannot overstate how good Rochester looks right now, and that may be frustrating to read if you have been unhappy with Georgia’s past two games. That’s why my final Quick Sting is to tell you…
It’s Only Two Games
There’s a lot of season left, and a slow start is not a season-killer. Last season, New England started off 0-3 before climbing back into playoff hunt to finish third in the East Division; Saskatchewan started 0-2 and made it to the Champion’s Cup Finals. Calgary lost its first two games in 2016 before making it to the West Division Finals. Rochester had a similar 2015, beginning 0-2 then climbing to the East Division Finals; Edmonton began with the same record before winning a Champion’s Cup; same with Calgary who made it to the West Division Finals.
Remember in March when Georgia went 1-3? It didn’t feel good for fans or players. But the reality is every team goes through some rough period during a season. There is so much talent across the NLL that it is entirely possible for a team to be in the thick of things until the very end of the season.
Georgia has had its struggles, there’s no questioning that. But a two-game losing streak to start the season off is probably the best wake up call players could get right now and hopefully shape up before, not after, reinforcements arrive. O’Connor will be returning sooner than later, and Tutton has a good shot at being back on the floor near the end of the season. That’s two big additions right there to the back end which will definitely help down the stretch. The rookies will improve; they’ll make rookie mistakes here and there, but they will improve. And for those worried about the offense, yeah, they’ve been bunching up a lot in the middle. Comeau already noted that, and it will be addressed this week. But honestly, the reason I’m not worried about the Swarm offense is because there’s no way a group this talented across the board can’t be the same monster it was in 2017. Three Thompsons, Johnny Powless, Randy Staats, Jesse King, Jackson, Kiel Matisz. This is practically the same lineup that broke records last season. It. Will. Click. And when it does, watch out.