We’ve all had that situation where things just aren’t working out lately, and the best thing to do is just walk away from it for a while so that when you return, you can get back to being successful.
The Swarm find themselves in this situation after going 1-2 at home over their last three games, and some time away might serve them well until they return to Sting City on Feb. 15 to take on the New York Riptide (get your tickets here). They take to the road for the next three games, all against East Division foes and starting with the freshman New York Riptide. Those two recent losses exposed a few issues, which we’ll dive into this quote-heavy Hive Five, focusing a little more on what happened recently for the men in blue and yellow and what the plan is for them moving forward.
But this wouldn’t be a traditional Hive Five if we didn’t look at both teams, so let’s knock the Riptide portion out quick. It’s not meant a slight against them that I don’t want to focus as much on them. Just right now, it’s more important to focus internally on the Swarm since their recent defeats were more their own doing. It doesn’t help that the Riptide are …
Have some sympathy, because it isn’t easy being winless in sports. The Riptide stumbled out of the gate and can’t seem to get their feet completely beneath them, although their last game got them pretty close to it.
Two weeks ago, they welcomed the Philadelphia Wings to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Things were sort of going the way every Riptide game had gone – down at halftime, never really in control of things. To their credit, they had the lead early for a few minutes in the first quarter, but the second quarter was predominantly Wings, and the visiting team had a four-goal lead going into halftime.
The Wings were up 12-7 in the third quarter when the Riptide used a five-goal run to tie things up with under nine minutes left in the game. We had a game until a trio of Wings goals closed the door.
There really were a lot of things to like in that game from the expansion club. An inaugural season is about establishing a culture and coming together as a team, developing each and every time until said team has a win and building off of that. The Riptide certainly took a huge developmental step forward on Jan. 4.
But that growth has not been consistent for them. After being outscored by eight goals in their inaugural game, they closed the gap to just a four-goal differential in the second game. The third game was a step back, however, as they were dominated and lost by 10 goals. After that, the Riptide faced a determined Saskatchewan Rush team and were held to just four goals for a second time this season. That game against the Wings may be a step forward, but we haven’t seen any follow through yet, so it’s difficult to assess or predict what will face the Swarm on Saturday.
Tyler Digby (left) and Dan Lomas (right) chasing the ball at the boards ahead of Mike Messenger | Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre
Sure, prep for the players on that team, study the goalies’ strengths and weaknesses, all that jazz. But the Riptide are still figuring things out.
“It takes time for that group to gel, and they’re getting better each and every week,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau noted. “That’s our goal, too, and we really haven’t done that. I think both teams are in the same boat right now, that they’re trying to get a win and trying to get better.”
SHORT MEMORY, GET IN THE GROOVE
A gassed fourth quarter and getting steamrolled in the first half were the undoing of the Swarm in their last two games. Those losses pointed out issues on both ends of the floor, pouring frigid water over the two dominating performances the Swarm opened the 2019-20 season with.
But as we’ve seen, there really hasn’t been time for the Swarm to figure things out – actually, there’s been too much time. A bye week has followed every Swarm game so far this season until now, and it’s difficult to have a short memory or get into a groove when you’re taking time off.
“Speaking on behalf of the entire team, we’re very excited to actually play multiple games in a row now,” Comeau said. “I think the off-weeks have really got us out of a rhythm, and we’re looking to get a little bit of a flow going, a little bit of a rhythm, and being able to play in two weekends, we’re very much looking forward to.”
REVIEW THE MATERIAL
Building a rhythm should be simple enough for the next three games. And while guys should have short memories, we should still look at what went wrong most recently for the Swarm in their 16-10 loss to the Bandits.
Randy Staats started to see his shots drop, Shayne Jackson has been his consistent self, the Swarm made noticeable improvements in the second half, and the power play recorded its fourth consecutive game of three power play goals.
But the offense isn’t shooting well, finishing last Saturday’s game with a collective 11.5 S%. Of their 87 shots that night, an astounding 30 were off target. Diversity has always been the name of the game in terms of the Swarm experiencing offensive success, but only five players scored for them against the Bandits, one of those goals coming in transition courtesy of Jordan MacIntosh.
Defensively, this squad went from the best in the NLL to sixth. Mike Poulin’s numbers have slid with the Swarm’s, as everyone regresses to the mean. The penalty kill in particular has been getting hit hard of late, allowing three power play goals against in each of their losses. The Bandits were deadly, scoring quickly on those man-advantages.
And transition defense has been poor. After two games of no transition goals against, the Mammoth and Bandits ran the floor well against the Swarm, punctuating this with the Swarm’s first shorthand goal against last Saturday.
We’re also seeing lefties score more against the Swarm. The Mammoth didn’t really get much production from their lefties, but the Bandits enjoyed some success on the left side. Two of their power play goals were from lefties, and the shorty Josh Byrne scored highlights this issue, as well.
“Good lord,” my inner editor is saying, “can you not pump this team up? It’s not the end of the world, and this entire Quick Sting makes it sound like it is.
“THINK POSITIVE, DARN IT.”
I mean, there were positives in that Quick Sting, but I take your (my?) point.
The biggest positive from the last loss was the Swarm went from being down by eight goals at halftime to four at one point in the second half of the game. Adjustments were made defensively – out of necessity as Adam Wiedemann played out the front door with Bryan Cole leaving the game early due to an injury, and because when you get outscored by eight goals, you need to change something up. The offense did start cashing in more, outscoring the Bandits 7-5 in the final two frames of the game.
This photo is sophomoric | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess
Say what you want about a loss, but any team that doesn’t give up and continues to grind – like what the Riptide did against the Wings in their last game – is a good sign of what’s to come for your squad and their character.
“When you’re down by that much, it’s easy to throw in the towel and call it a night,” Comeau said. “I was happy that our guys didn’t quit. We came out, and we battled. We got it to a point that it was a four-goal game and had a chance to make that even shorter on the power play. I think the good thing was we got moved around pretty good and had a pretty rough first half, but we followed that up with a much improved (second half) and played with a lot more energy and a lot more urgency, which we needed to. That’s the positives of the game. When you dig yourself such a hole, it’s really hard to get out of, and we did that. You can’t do that against good teams. It comes back to haunt you, and it did us.”
IMMEDIATE FIXES, OR HOW TO CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLES
We already went over what the Swarm haven’t done right, but that’s really an outside observer offering said observations outsidedly. Frankly, no one knows more about what’s going on with a team and its locker room than the head coach, and Comeau offered up great insights in our pregame chat, which is why his quotes have been peppered into this Hive Five.
So, while I can point out the defense is regressing to the mean, Comeau and assistant coach Dan Ladouceur can specifically point out where things are going wrong.
Take what Ladouceur said about the defense immediately following the loss to the Bandits on Jan. 11:
“We gave them (the Bandits) too much space, we weren’t closing gaps, we weren’t playing with energy, and there was an overall lack of trust. We were sliding to help, and guys didn’t need it.”
“Offensively, we were stagnant. They didn’t move the ball. We talked about against this defense, being quick and making a move. That’s a big-bodied defense out there, so we wanted to move quick and make them run with us, draw some penalties, and we didn’t do any of those things in the first half.” – Ladouceur | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess
Comeau pointed out more after a few days of review:
“We’ve got to follow our game plan, and we have to be more physical. When you play a game where you’re not cross-checking anyone and you allow the other team to get so many quality shots inside, that’s what you’re going to get. We’ve got principles in place and strategy and our system of how we need to play – we need to execute that.
“Some of our players have not really been doing that, and that’s certainly going to be the message this week, that we need to buy into what we’re doing as a group, and we need to execute. Two-out-of-three shifts or three-out-of-four shifts isn’t enough; you’ve got to do it every shift. That’s really the defensive message.
“Teams in this league are good, and when you give them opportunities, there’s a good chance they can score, but when you give them the number of opportunities we gave Buffalo inside, they’re going to score a lot of goals on us, and that’s exactly the type of performance we put on the floor, and we definitely have to address that.”
By 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, we’ll see how well that message resonated with the Swarm men and if they stuck to the game plan and Swarm principles. The Riptide may be a winless franchise, but waltzing into their barn and expecting the dub would defeat the entire messaging that the Swarm coaches have been repeating all week long.
If we consider the Riptide an uncontrollable because they’re still young and figuring things out, then the Swarm look to control the controllables – everything that Comeau and Ladouceur pointed out. By playing the way they know they can for a full 60 minutes, the Swarm know that the wins will take care of themselves as a positive byproduct.