The Swarm’s road to remain undefeated now runs through two cities in two days.
Georgia heads north to Toronto to take on the Rock this Friday before going east to New England to challenge the Black Wolves. Make no mistake, this weekend is huge for all six East Division teams just because of these two games. Georgia losses can muddy the standings and create parity, but Georgia wins could also separate it from the pack.
But if we scale it down to just the Swarm, Rock, and Black Wolves, the implications are just slightly greater. And that feels like as good a place as any to start, talking about how important these two games are for…
We’re only in Week 6 of the NLL 2018-19 season, and while that may feel too early to be discussing playoff situations, we kind of have to address them now for Georgia, Toronto and New England.
The Swarm play the Rock and the Black Wolves three times each this season. To take a season series and have the tiebreaker against an opponent, you just need two wins. So if the Swarm win both games this weekend and end up with the same record at the end of the season with either the Rock or the Black Wolves, then the Swarm get the playoff berth instead of them. For the Rock and Black Wolves, evening up the season series against the Swarm is important so they can have a fighting chance when the teams meet for the third time later this season.
It’s not going to be easy | Photo Credit: Ryan McCullough
It’s fair to still wonder why we’re talking about this now. And the best answer is to look at the 2017-18 East Division. That tangled mess didn’t sort itself out until the very last week of the regular season, and the Swarm’s doubleheader in the final weekend had a huge hand in determining who finished first, third, and made the playoffs period. The top two teams in the East last season, Georgia and Rochester, were in last place with six weeks left in the regular season. Didn’t stop them from meeting in the East Division Finals.
Right now, three teams in the East only have one loss and Georgia none. Things aren’t going to get easier in the East, so playing every game like it’s their last is important for everyone moving forward. Get wins however you can, even if it’s by…
JUST ONE GOAL
Counting two postseason games in 2017, the Swarm and Rock have faced each other 10 times since 2016, and the Swarm have won nine of those games. Of the 10 games, half have been decided by one goal.
But for Toronto, that one-goal theme hasn’t quit recently. When the Swarm and Rock played on Dec. 28, 2018, the Swarm won thanks to Lyle Thompson’s heroics with 24 seconds left, winning the game 12-11.
Toronto then faced the Philadelphia Wings and the Colorado Mammoth. The Rock won them both, an 11-10 overtime win against the Wings and an 11-10 win against the Mammoth. I wouldn’t want to bet that Friday’s game will be decided again by a goal, but I wouldn’t not bet against it either. It would be foolish, like betting against…
THE SWARM’S POINTS LEADERS
Is anyone surprised Lyle leads the Swarm in points again? He has 22 (11G, 11A), averaging 5.5 PTS/GAME. Math that out over 18 games, and he’d finish with 99 points.
Randy Staats and Holden Cattoni are next on the Swarm leaderboard. Staats has 21 points (6G, 15A), Cattoni with 19 points (6G, 13A). Those average out to 5.25 and 4.75 PTS/GAME respectively. Those paces throughout an 18-game season would come out to 95 points for Staats (really 94.5, but round up) and 86 for Cattoni (85.5, again rounding up).
For Cattoni, 86 points would be a new career-high. For Staats, it matches his rookie season when he set a new NLL record for most points recorded in a rookie season. And while that wouldn’t upset Lyle’s career-high in points, it would certainly be a new marker for goals if he continued his pace, finishing with either 49 or 50.
But that’s only if things stay the same throughout the remaining 14 games for the Swarm. And while we never know what will happen during a season, it again feels foolish to not expect these guys to elevate their respective games further, similar to what…
REILLY O’CONNOR HAS DONE
In his fourth year in the NLL and third with the Black Wolves, Reilly O’Connor is having a great season through three games. He leads New England in goals with 11, coincidentally tied with Lyle and Toronto’s Tom Schreiber for the fourth-most goals in the NLL. But O’Connor has hit that marker in one less game.
Considering he finished the 2017-18 season with 43 points (7G, 36A), O’Connor has surprised this season. He’s great cutting towards and doing damage on the crease. During the first game between Georgia and New England, O’Connor recorded five points (3G, 2A). That hat trick came during the fourth quarter, and getting a hat trick in 15 minutes is a great and difficult feat to accomplish.
Bomberry pressing O’Connor | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess
We won’t know how the doubleheader affects the Swarm defense and how it will handle O’Connor and the other weapons the Black Wolves have, but Mike Poulin and the Swarm defense have become known this season for their…
12, 10, 8, 11. Those are the goals against the Swarm through their first four games this season. That comes out to 10.5 GA/GAME, the same number as Poulin’s GAA this season. That 10.5 GA/GAME is also the second-lowest in the NLL, just barely behind Calgary’s 10.2.
The Swarm has also been great while man-down. Opposing teams have only cashed in on six power play opportunities, and the Swarm has killed the other 12 chances. That ties the Swarm penalty killing efficiency with Rochester for second-best in the league at 66.67%.
Defense wins championships. Georgia’s defensive success this season is a testament to the work defensive coach Sean Ferris and the Swarm’s captains have put in with the other Swarm veterans the past few seasons, as well as the buy-in and work from everyone before games. It’s those high-character traits that the Swarm is so high on.
When I asked Swarm head coach Ed Comeau if it’s been great seeing the Swarm defense operate this well, he said:
“It has been. Our staff and our veteran leaders have done a really good job working with our guys, and our guys have done a great job of being prepped and being ready and prepared. That’s part of being good at this level is really making sure that you put the work in to do the homework, to do the video work, do all the prep that’s required to play against these teams. Every team has got a lethal offense, and if you don’t have a good plan for them, you could be in trouble…
“Our goaltending is a function of our defense; our defense is a function of our goaltending, and I think they’ve complemented each other very well this year. It’s certainly been good, and we’d love to keep our goals against at the level it is right now. That gives us a chance to be successful every night.”
Friday and Saturday will put that to the test for the men in blue and yellow, but they are bound and determined to continue their winning ways.
The Poulin Wall | Photo Credit: Ryan McCullough
Georgia returns to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena on Sunday, Jan. 27 to take on the Saskatchewan Rush. Faceoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET. Billed as the Meeting of the Champions presented by IceByrd Frozen Yogurt, the last two teams to win an NLL World Championship will meet for the only time this regular season.
Early arriving fans can receive a Stinger Snowglobe. Tickets are available at GeorgiaSwarm.com/Champions or by calling 844-4-GASWARM.