Hey Georgia lax fans, your Swarm (3-0) is the top team in the NLL. After handling three weeks worth of business on the East Coast, Georgia flies to the West Coast to take on the Vancouver Stealth (2-3) tonight at 10:00 p.m. EST. You can watch the game at NLLTV.com.
Here are five things for every Swarm lacrosse fan to keep an eye on:
1.Hot and Cold
Over the past three seasons, the Stealth has posted a cumulative record of 14-40 and finished last in the West Division, never sniffing at the playoffs. In 2016, Georgia defeated Vancouver in convincing fashion 14-6 during its playoff clinching victory at home on April 30. The Swarm has yet to win in Vancouver however in two previous attempts from 2014-15.
Vancouver started this season out on the right foot, knocking off division rivals, the Calgary Roughnecks and Colorado Mammoth in back-to-back games. Along with the Toronto Rock and Georgia, Vancouver made one of the best statements a team can hope to make for its new season. But that has changed over the past few weeks as Vancouver has lost their last three games. Calgary took revenge at Vancouver’s home opener on Jan. 21, the Buffalo Bandits earned their first win of the season in a crazy 21-15 shootout last weekend, and the Saskatchewan Rush collected a 16-12 home victory last night versus the Stealth. For a team desperate to see any success, these past three losses can be potential momentum killers. Now, Vancouver returns home to Langley Events Centre to face the No. 1 ranked team in the NLL, your Georgia Swarm.
2. Good Pairings
If one thing is going right for Vancouver, it’s their (and the NLL’s) two scoring leaders, Rhys Duch (14G, 22A) and Corey Small (15G, 23A). Their stat lines are eerily similar as Duch is working toward his third straight season of 100+ points, while Small is on pace to record his first such season ever.
More double-dealing fun facts, the Stealth’s two wins this season came back-to-back over two nights. This upcoming weekend will also have them playing back-to-back games. Before the Swarm invade the Stealth home, Vancouver visited Saskatchewan to take on the Rush. In 2014 and 2015, the Rush dominated the Stealth, emerging victorious in six games. However, last year was different as Vancouver gave the eventual back-to-back champions a run for their money, winning 2-of-3 contests. If Vancouver wants to finally finish above fourth in the division, then this weekend is paramount for accomplishing this task, but they’re already off to a bad start trying to gain some momentum considering they lost yesterday to the Rush 16-12.
3. Playing with a short hand
Let’s keep this one short and simple: shorthand goals are fun to see happen (as long as it isn’t against your team). Georgia, on fire offensively, has excelled at shorthand goals. Last year, they totaled 10 all season. Three games into the season, and the Swarm already has five. The Vancouver Stealth don’t have any this year.
4. Battle in Net
Vancouver is currently going with Tyler Richards and Tye Belanger between the pipes. Richards has a 13.82 GAA and a .733 SV% over 217 minutes of playing time. Belanger meanwhile has a 13.76 GAA and a .733 SV% over 82 minutes of play. A lot of those numbers comes from their recent game against the Buffalo Bandits as Richards and Belanger allowed 21 lax balls past them. All the same, both rank in the bottom third of all NLL goalies.
Not Georgia goaltender Mike Poulin. Georgia struck gold in the offseason when they signed him immediately to a three-year contract. Over 158 minutes on the floor, Poulin has won all three games he’s played in while posting a 9.85 GAA and a .814 SV%. In addition to his stellar work between the pipes, Poulin has helped the relatively young Swarm defense mesh well with veterans Jason Noble and John Ranagan.
5. Power Plays
Both teams are around 54-percent on power play scoring chances. Vancouver hasn’t been drawing too many penalties except during their rematch against the Calgary Roughnecks. Calgary, seeking vengeance after a tough home opener loss, gave Vancouver 12 power play opportunities. Unfortunately for the Stealth, they were only able to cash in on four of them. Other than that, they generally accomplish what they need to when man-up. Georgia is similar in that regard. While not having a 100% success rate on power plays in any of the games like Vancouver has (against Colorado Mammoth on Jan. 7) Georgia has been consistent enough to average out at .539%.
Neither team really earns a lot of penalties, so expect an empty penalty box for most of the game. And to reiterate the third point, even if Vancouver is man-up, Georgia has feasted on those opportunities to score a shorthand goal. Vancouver was getting beat in transition against last week’s shootout against Buffalo, an area they’re sure to concentrate on.
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