We go into week No. 4 of the NLL season with your Georgia Swarm as one of the only two undefeated teams left. This Friday, Jan. 20, Georgia hosts the winless New England Black Wolves at Harrah’s Cherokee Field at Infinite Energy Arena. Faceoff is set for 7:35 p.m. EST. Tickets are available at 844-4-GASWARM or GeorgiaSwarm.com/Scarf.
Here are five things for every Swarm lacrosse fan to keep an eye on:
1. Call and No Response
While a streak of unanswered goals doesn’t tell the whole story of a game, they are undeniably voluminous chapters in how a team’s offense performs during a game and their opponent’s defense doesn’t. Over the past two weeks, Georgia has gone on three runs of five or more unanswered goals. They only allowed one such run all season, and it was last Saturday against the Buffalo Bandits. Due to some complacency from the Georgia defense in the final quarter, Buffalo scored five goals to bring the score to 16-13.
New England has allowed three runs of six or more unanswered goals in their first two games and have been unable to string together any offensive momentum. If New England plans on making any headway against the No.1 ranked team in the NLL, they will have to do whatever they can to not let Georgia get any unanswered streaks going.
2. Georgia’s Offense
It’s not cheating to use the same Hive Five essential two weeks running when a team’s offense is insane. Georgia has scored 18 points in both games against the 2016 Champion’s Cup finalists. Their total of 36 goals for the season is only bested by one team in the league, the Vancouver Stealth with 37; Vancouver has also played in one more game than the Swarm. The next closest is the Colorado Mammoth (who’ve also played in three games) with 32. Georgia has the best shot percentage in the league at .235.
Individually, many Swarm players are off to fast starts. Lyle Thompson leads the team with 16 points (4G, 12A); his totals combined with his brothers’ (Miles Thompson, Jerome Thompson) totals account for a third of all Swarm goals and assists. Miles, Shayne Jackson, and Randy Staats (NLL 2016 ROY) all have six goals. The only other team to have three players with six or more goals is Vancouver, but again, that one more game…12 different Swarm players have scored a goal.
Point being, Georgia Swarm’s offense is insanely good. New England’s defense has their work cut out for them.
3. Between the Pipes
In 2016, New England’s Evan Kirk was named the Goaltender of the Year after he record 620 saves and a save percentage of .789. His performance undoubtedly helped the Black Wolves get to the postseason last year. Unfortunately for New England, he hasn’t been the same so far this year. In nearly 120 minutes of playing time, Kirk has a 13.11 GAA and a save percentage of .770. His stats from last weekend are comparable to Georgia’s starting goalie Mike Poulin (Poulin did post an .800 save percentage during the first three quarters against Buffalo), but the first game for both goaltenders tells a different story. On Jan. 7, Kirk played 58 minutes, allowing 15 goals on 60 shots, a .750 save percentage. Poulin came in and played 38 minutes but only allowed three goals on 24 shots, a ludicrous .875 save percentage. Poulin’s consistency and ability to shake off goals has helped Georgia’s defense step up and fend off two great offenses. It also helps having a swarming offense take away some stress. Echoing the previous point, New England will need 2016 Kirk to show up Friday night for them to stand a chance.
4. Switching Sides
Georgia acquired Jordan Hall in a trade with New England over the offseason (a trade which also involved an exchange of multiple future draft pick selections) and signed ex-Black Wolves John Ranagan near the end of 2016. It’s definitely pleasing for Georgia to not have to face these two. As part of the Black Wolves, Hall and Ranagan troubled the Swarm last year. In five matchups, Hall scored 14 points (5G, 9A), collected 16 loose balls, and caused a turnover; Ranagan scored three points (2G, 1A), collected 23 loose balls, and caused two turnovers. Head coach Ed Comeau saw their prowess in black and orange firsthand and is happy to have them dressed in blue and yellow.
“We’re very fortunate Jordan became available to fill the hole when Jesse King was injured,” Comeau said. “He’s been very great for us – not only on the floor but off the floor. John Ranagan’s been a nice addition, too. We talked about adding size and speed, and he has both of those. He’s fit in well, and we’re really happy to have both those guys wearing Swarm jerseys this year.”
5. Forgetting the Past
In five matchups last year (including the postseason), New England won four games. Their final head-to-head came in the first round of the postseason with it going to overtime. A hard-fought match from both teams, New England eked out a win to end Georgia’s postseason aspirations. Georgia’s front office let that playoff loss provide extra motivation to field the best team they could as evidenced by all the offseason moves they made. But Comeau goes game-by-game and refuses to dwell on the past, being more concerned with the 2017 editions of the Swarm and Black Wolves.
For the Black Wolves, they need to forget their first two weeks of uninspired play. If they get their first win of the season, it’ll provide some much needed juice as they head back to New England for their home opener on Jan. 28 against the struggling Buffalo Bandits.
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