What better way to come off the second bye week within the past three weeks than with a doubleheader? The Georgia Swarm goes to Buffalo to tangle with the Bandits on Saturday before returning to The Hive Sunday for its second bout of the season with the Rochester Knighthawks. The Swarm’s full dance card is welcome for players and fans alike, but it means that we have a lot to catch up on since it’s been a relatively quiet three weeks for Georgia fans. In the spirit of a doubleheader, I went crazy and doubled down on the Hive Five, so instead of the usual five Quick Stings, we get 10 of these bad boys. Yay…
Again, a lot happened since Georgia’s last game. So let’s not waste time and get into the swing of things by celebrating the fact that Georgia is done with…
At least for this month.
This isn’t a dig at the West. I love interleague play, but Georgia has only played two of its East Division foes and played every West team once this season. Georgia split its four games against West Division teams, besting Calgary and Vancouver in January to get back to .500 ball. For the entirety of February, Georgia takes on all East teams. It does accomplish this in two weeks, however, before another bye week. It’s not the only team with a full schedule since both Buffalo and Rochester also get to enjoy…
Buffalo travels to New England on Friday to take on the Black Wolves. It goes home after that to welcome the men in blue and yellow on Saturday. Rochester, meanwhile, tangos at home with the Toronto Rock Saturday night. It gets to make almost the exact same trip the Swarm is doing after their respective games to travel to Georgia for Sunday’s contest. Busy busy busy.
The standings in the East are going to shift quite a bit this weekend. The race to first is quite close, and Buffalo can seize first with two wins (assuming Toronto loses Saturday). Rochester can right the ship and get one game away from .500 if it sweeps this weekend. Two wins for Georgia means it ties with New England and/or Toronto for first (assuming Buffalo loses to the Black Wolves Friday night and Rochester loses to the Rock on Saturday). The East is tight, and Georgia needs to capitalize on this fact to help catapult it to the top of the standings. One sign that it has a good chance are the three teams’…
|GF/GA as of Jan. 2, 2018||GF||GA||Differential|
|GF/GA as of Feb. 9, 2018||GF||GA||Differential|
On Jan. 2, all three teams had three games under their belts. Rochester was 2-1, and both Buffalo and Georgia were 1-2. As of Feb. 9, Buffalo and Rochester have played seven games apiece, and Georgia has played six.
A goal differential is a good indicator of how a team has performed over a certain period of time, but it does have a fault in it where it masks good or bad games. Rochester’s numbers suffer from this. It has dropped its five recent games after running all over Calgary (17-6) and Buffalo (21-11) at the beginning of the year. So its +21 differential has overshadowed its five recent games. The Knighthawks aren’t being blown out, but its losses are slowly chipping away at the large differential it built for itself in December, evidenced by how it has shrunk to only +5.
Buffalo and Georgia’s respective differentials are better representations. Both have improved from their 1-2 records and are trending positively as their differentials have shifted, Buffalo from -13 to -6 and Georgia from -2 to +1. The reason the Swarm gets the edge, though, is because it has not had that one game where it got blown out by double digits. The Bandits are playing better ball (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention its stunning comeback OT win against the Rush in Saskatoon), but the Swarm has been consistently better throughout the season. For more evidence, let’s look at Buffalo and Georgia’s…
We’ll start with the two teams’ GF/GAME. The Bandits currently have a GF/GAME of 13.14; Georgia’s sits at 12.67. Buffalo’s offense is scoring more than Georgia, true, but that’s only one side of the ball. On the backend, the Bandits sport an even 14 GA/GAME. Georgia, meanwhile, has a 12.5 GA/GAME. A 1.5 GA difference doesn’t seem like much, but much like the goal differential, there’s some digging we need to do to get the whole story.
Georgia hasn’t given up less than double digits in GA all season long, true. However, those games haven’t featured opponents decimating the Swarm D. Colorado managed 14 GF back in Dec., and New England and Saskatchewan are the only teams to score 13 against the Swarm. Everything else is 12 GA or less. Looking at Buffalo, they do have two games where the opponents couldn’t score double digits in goals, but the Bandits were put through the wringer two weeks in a row in Dec. Rochester posted 21 on Dec. 23, and the Rock got revenge for its season-opening loss by recording 20 GF. This tells us that Buffalo’s defense has been hit-or-miss this year, but its offense has been hit more often than not, helping it achieve four wins. Georgia, however, has been more consistent out the back door, and its offense is heating up. That’s why it has an edge over the Bandits. It’s an edge it will need, especially if you remember their…
Way back in the distant time of April 2017, the Bandits and Swarm met for one final time that season. Buffalo had fallen way short of its expectations for itself, having made it to the Champion’s Cup in 2016. Georgia had taken the previous two games in the season, and the final game of the season series between the two was its most dominant performance of the trio. The Swarm bested the Bandits 20-7 on April 22. Lyle Thompson led the team in points with 10 (2G, 8A), and three Swarm players had seven points to their names.
Moving to more recent history, Georgia last played Rochester on Dec. 30 in 2017. I don’t know how many of you remember that night, but it was the one where the game time got pushed back two hours because Rochester had a crazy 24 hours trying to just get from New York to Georgia. Fans stuck around and got to see the Swarm earn its first victory of the season via a 14-11 score and saw 2 Chainz perform at halftime. Lyle again led the team in points with six (3G, 3A), but it was the Jesse King show as he hammered in four goals in the opener.
King has been a great story, especially after missing all of last season due to injury. As good as his story is, I have to admit I may have been wrong to peg him as…
Swarm goaltender Mike Poulin last season called Hall the glue that held the team together, and there was a good amount of truth in that statement. Hall is on the Holdout List for this year, and there’s a chance that he could come back, but there’s no telling when. So the question at the beginning of the season naturally became who would take his place? I then believed it would be King since his 2016 numbers (22G, 55A) closely paralleled Hall’s 2017 numbers (20G, 60A). King has proven me wrong, however, and been a dangerous scoring threat, constantly working his way inside to record some impressive goals. He’s third on the team in GF, behind Shayne Jackson and his 15 and Randy Staats and his 14, good company to keep.
With the Swarm’s recent successes, does it really need a Hall successor? Maybe not as it is back to its unselfish ways, but Kiel Matisz has found himself in that feeder role and is excelling at it. He currently has 28 points (5G, 23A), tied with Lyle for second most on the team, and he leads the team in assists. Matisz’s pace in AF/Game is currently at 3.83, half an assist ahead of Hall’s 2017 pace of 3.33. Matisz has recorded four or more assists in four games, and the Swarm is 3-1 in those. His success this season in connecting on passes is helping Georgia climb up the East Division standings. It’s a pleasant surprise to the first third of the Swarm’s season, a quieter one much like…
A 3-3 record might not sound like there’s consistency out the backend, but I already touched on this in an earlier Quick Sting. Georgia is not getting blown out. The statistical best defense in the NLL is Saskatchewan, and it gave up 16 GA when Buffalo handed it its only loss this season. Georgia may have three losses, but only one touched 14 GA, the other two at 13. The Swarm also may not be preventing an opponent from reaching double digits in GF, but the Swarm O is picking up and staying ahead of the 12 or 11 goals it may give up.
A lot of the credit has to go to Poulin between the pipes. Poulin’s numbers might not be the best he’s had in his career (currently sports a 12.33 GAA and a .760 SV%), but he’s the only goaltender in the league to have played every minute for his team (okay, he missed a second in one game. I’m a liar. Sue me). His 234 saves don’t lead the league, but remember, every team except for Colorado has played seven or more games. Duder keeps busy.
NLL netminders are known for making exceptional saves, giving credence to the saying “It’s not the quantity of the saves, it’s the quality.” Poulin has been the epitome of that this season for the Swarm. Again, he might not be putting up the best statistics of his life, but the number of key saves he has made has kept Georgia in the thick of things up until this point.
But he’s not the only one on the backend. Bryan Cole has been solid in his sophomore season. Jason Noble continues to show why he’s a feared defenseman. Leo Stouros zips around the floor with a reckless abandon that works in the Swarm’s favor. Jerome Thompson moving to transition has been a great move so far. Don’t forget about John Ranagan, Connor Sellars and Alex Crepinsek. Oh yeah, and Chad Tutton will be coming back to the team sometime this season. Good things are on the way defensively for the Swarm. But it’s not the only team with good things on the way. While it’s further down the line, Buffalo has a bright future ahead of it with…
Josh Byrne. Remember his name. The Hofstra University alum was taken with the first overall pick of the 2017 NLL Draft by Buffalo, and it was a no-brainer at the time. Byrne sits with 25 points (11G, 14A) this season, but his last game was a gem and a half. Buffalo visited Rochester on Feb. 3, and Byrne had five goals. He recorded five points in two other games this season (against Toronto on Dec. 8 and Saskatchewan on Jan. 19), but those were both four assists-games. The offensive explosion he provided in the surprisingly high scoring I-90 rivalry game was reaffirmation of what Byrne can do in the NLL.
I’m not suggesting Byrne will have another five-goal night come Saturday. But the kid’s good. Any fan of the NLL should have their eye on him and what he will become, especially playing on a team with a star like Dhane Smith. The Bandits have good weapons on hand that consistently play well. Unfortunately for Georgia’s other opponent this weekend, its consistency is faltering…
Rochester went from scoring 38 goals in its first two games to only 38 in its next four games. The Knighthawks put up 14 last week against Buffalo, usually a number that wins a game for the Knighthawks, but its defense was looking porous against the Bandits. Rochester is known for having a great defense. Usually what few openings it gives up aren’t that bad since one of the top goaltenders in the league, Matt Vinc, is between the pipes to stop many surefire SOG. But during its five-game losing streak, the Knighthawks aren’t firing on the offensive end to capitalize on its strong defense. When the offense clicks like last weekend, the defense isn’t at its best, evidenced by the Bandits putting up 16 goals.
One of the issues is accuracy. In its two wins, the Knighthawks scored 38 goals on 143 shots, a 26.57 S%. Opponents scored 17 times on 152 shots, an 11.18 S%. Over the next five games, those numbers changed quite a bit. Rochester made 51 goals on 376 shots, which comes out to a 13.56 S%. Opponents? They scored 67 on 391 shots. That comes out to a 17.14 S%. Opponents have gotten more accurate while the Knighthawks halved their accuracy. Granted, this is a case of small sample size versus larger sample size, but it is telling that Rochester’s offense fell to Earth while the defense isn’t operating as efficiently as it normally does. Rochester’s potential successes this weekend will be dependent on these factors.
If you’ve been paying attention, you have probably noticed a theme in this Hive Five, the idea that…
It’s what Georgia’s gotten from Poulin all season. It’s what the Bandits offense has been doing for the most part. It’s what Rochester is showing in a bad way the last five games.
The East is tight with five teams competing for three playoff spots. All the teams have a realistic chance of making the playoffs, but each has things they need to become consistently good factors. For Georgia, it’s continued successes defensively with the offense getting closer to its 2017 form. For Buffalo, it’s some stronger defense from its netminders and the offense staying near the top in the league. For Rochester, it’s getting back to its consistently good defense it’s known for and the offense clicking, maybe not like it did in the first two games, but better so it can take winnable games.
Consistency is king. Averaging 20 GF/GAME for a month is awesome, but if you start losing the next month without getting double digits in scoring, then what’s the point? The NLL has a long season, and maintaining a strong performance level is key to being the best.