Game Previews

HIVE FIVE: Swarm at Black Wolves

Five Quick Stings as the Swarm seek an escape from their three-game losing streak

No two ways around it – the past three games for the Swarm have been head-scratchers. Losing to the Colorado Mammoth and Buffalo Bandits – two perennial postseason contenders – hurts, but they’re great teams, and you don’t expect anything to come easily when they’re the opponent.

But etching your name into the annals of New York Riptide history as being their first win? That’s a gut punch and a half.

Now as the Swarm continue their East Division road trip with a trip to Mohegan Sun Arena against the undefeated New England Black Wolves, the best they can do is press onward to try and right the ship.

The task is daunting as they roll into the barn of an undefeated team with that three-game losing streak hanging over them. But if we all look back at that Riptide game on Jan. 18, the Swarm…

PLAYED REALLY WELL

At least for three-and-a-half quarters.

Seriously, the Swarm played well. Whatever they wanted to change from their previous two losses happened. Their shooting was accurate, as they collectively shot 18.8% a week ago. The penalty kill unit killed three Riptide power play situations, including a 1:44 min.-long 5-on-3 situation early in the game. For the first three quarters, they allowed just five goals against, and the defense was forcing bad shots, as evidenced by the 24 saves on 29 SOG Mike Poulin made – that’s an .828 SV% in the first 45 minutes.

Randy Staats had a crazy night of nine assists – a personal best for him. Lyle Thompson netted four goals, the last two of which would’ve surely been heroic if the final result went the Swarm’s way. Shayne Jackson continued his consistently torrid pace with another six-point (3G, 3A) night. Jordan Hall had his most outstanding game this season – it wasn’t his first five-point game this season, but it was arguably his most impactful and accurate one. Zach Miller had himself a great game after missing over a year of NLL action, something we’ll detail more in a later Quick Sting.

But that fourth quarter was the Swarm’s undoing, a familiar refrain if you recall their loss to the Colorado Mammoth. If you’re allowing a team to put up more goals in 15 minutes than they did in the preceding 45, then that’s…

ON YOUR DEFENSE

What’s the answer to the fourth-quarter meltdown? Did the Swarm defense take off their foot off the gas given the lead and winless opponent? Were there mental lapses, guys not sliding when they should have? Did Poulin not stop the shots he should have had?

Yes? | Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre

Probably all of these. The goal Cody Radziewicz scored immediately as the Riptide won another face-off was indicative of the Swarm defense having a huge mental lapse, and it was the second time they’d allowed a goal off the draw after not allowing one of those all season. Every goaltender wants every goal back, but there were a few of them – particularly those perimeter shots – that Poulin typically has. Dan Lomas’s hat trick came from way out, but no one slid into his lane to either block the shot or disrupt his attempt.

The collapse is all the more frustrating because the Swarm had been playing so well for most of the game. They showcased their game and what happens when they play it, and then they quit playing it.

It stings worse when you realize the Swarm are now below .500, lost to a division rival, and now have to try and get back above .500 by taking on two teams higher up in the standings than them.

It’s possible, but the first step involves besting an…

UNDEFEATED TEAM IN THEIR BARN

New England is a great team, a familiar face in the NLL postseason the last few seasons. But I don’t think many outside of their organization had them as an undefeated team into Week 9 of the 2019-20 NLL season.

Three of those games were solid wins – two 12-8 road wins against the Toronto Rock and Saskatchewan Rush and a dominant 21-11 home win against the Riptide. Their last one was a nail-biter, as they had to pour on the pressure in the second half before Callum Crawford’s overtime game-winner.

This year, those oft-aerial shoes are a noticeable lime green | Photo Credit: Khoi Ton

That final goal wasn’t without controversy, as the Philadelphia Wings immediately challenged it, saying Crawford’s foot stepped on the crease before his shot, but a lack of an overhead camera at Mohegan Sun Arena provided inconclusive evidence to overturn it, sending the Wings home with a loss.

Everyone expected Crawford to have a great season – he has 30 points (14G, 16A) in four games, a continuation from his great 2018-19 season. The offense runs through him, as rookie Andrew Kew is next in points with 19 (6G, 13A).

But it’s hard to imagine anyone expecting their defense to be this good. It’s currently second in the NLL at 8.5 GA/GAME after being 9th in the 2018-19 season. Goaltender Doug Jamieson has been a significant part of the defense’s success. Over 239:48 min., he has an 8.51 GAA and .834 SV%, both the third best in those categories among NLL goalies.

Do the Swarm have an answer for Jamieson? He’s not faced them much in his career. Over 122:43 min. against the Swarm, he has a 15.65 GAA and .709 SV%, his last game a 16-12 loss to the Swarm on Dec. 15, 2018. He’s certainly playing his best ball in his young career, so maybe the Swarm’s solutions come from their own players with…

30 POINTS

It’s really interesting how Jackson and Staats have gotten to 30 points in the first five games.

Jackson has been even in his production, netting a hat trick in every Swarm game and handing out a similar amount of assists. Against the Riptide, that hat trick was a natural and punctuated by a SportsCenter Top 10 appearance.

(Side note, I asked Jackson if he was excited about his first appearance on ESPN, and he said not really, wasn’t even his best goal of the night.)

Staats, however, has gotten to 30 points in an atypical way. The 27-year-old probably won’t reach 30 goals this season for the first time in his career, as he only has four so far. But his 26 assists currently lead the NLL and are a 94-assist pace through 18 games. If Staats does continue that pace, then he’ll surpass the NLL record for single season assists set by Mark Matthews of the Saskatchewan Rush in 2018, 84.

After a 9-assist night, you start to believe that Staats could set that record. His floor vision and feeding skills have always been phenomenal, but they’ve really leveled up this season. If he isn’t scoring, then ensuring his teammates are successful is the next best thing for the Swarm.

Success can be measured in many ways and differs from player-to-player. For Miller, it was…

BEING EFFECTIVE IN HIS FIRST GAME BACK

If you read the GAvsNY game recap, follow me on Twitter and saw my tweet about Miller, or watch my constantly hesitant and most recent 3 Things We Learned, you know what Miller had to go through before his second NLL game.

Miller was originally signed as a rookie free agent by the San Diego Seals in their inaugural season. He played in their first game ever on Dec. 22, 2018, handing out two assists against the Mammoth. But he suffered a lower body injury chasing a loosie off the draw and was placed on the Injured Reserve – Season Ending list.

Come the morning of the 2019 NLL Entry Draft, the Swarm traded for Miller, sending a second-round selection in that night’s draft to the Seals (that pick was No. 28 overall, which became Devyn Mayea).

Miller wasn’t 100% to start the season, and while participating in Training Camp and the beginning of the season, the Swarm did not have him take part in the more physical drills. He stayed on the Injured Reserve list to start the season, but with Bryan Cole leaving the Jan. 11 game injured, Swarm Owner and General Manager John Arlotta and the coaches decided it was time to see what Miller could do after a year of not playing lacrosse.

He definitely impressed, scoring his first NLL goal in transition and his second one with a stylish low whip. Miller had the third fewest minutes played last Saturday, which made sense given this was his first game in over a year and he faced gameday physicality from the Riptide. The 24-year-old came through unscathed and did some damage, which is exactly what you wanted to see from him.

Time will tell if Miller continues to be productive as he gets up to game speed. If he does, then the Swarm inherit an interestingly good problem to have – namely, what to do with Cole once he is fully healthy and ready to play. Does Cole go back to playing more of a transition game and slot up to play out the front door a time or two to give the lefties some rest/provide depth? It’s hard to understate how good Cole’s defense is and what a boost he would be to the back end.

That’s down the line, however. Right now, let’s see what Miller can do against the Black Wolves and hope he’s an effective piece once again. The Swarm will need that from him and the rest of the team, a full 60-minute effort of Swarm lacrosse to finally get back to .500 and have positive momentum heading into Philadelphia on Jan. 31.