Fresh off a well-earned win, the Colorado Mammoth are continuing their road trip with a visit to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena to take on the undefeated Georgia Swarm. The Swarm’s two wins and ensuing confidence have the fans and team soaring high ahead of Family Night – tickets available at GeorgiaSwarm.com/FamilyNight or by calling 844-4-GASWARM.
And while it’s good to play with confidence, there’s nothing deadlier to a team than rolling into home and expecting to win, especially against the Colorado Mammoth. This is a team known for excellent defense and upset road victories, like when they stunned the Saskatchewan Rush in the 2019 West Division Semifinals or downed the defending champion Calgary Roughnecks during their world championship banner raising night last week.
Heck, the Mammoth have upset the Swarm a few times, and that’s why the team will have to treat this game like a postseason game, especially considering it’s the only time the two will meet this regular season. As history has shown, the Mammoth have been a constant…
ROADBLOCK FOR THE SWARM
In 2017, the Georgia Swarm started the season 4-0 and rolled into Denver, Colorado to take on the Mammoth at Pepsi Center. It was an odd game for the Swarm as they didn’t execute the things that had made them successful in those first four games of the season, and the Mammoth fed on the home crowd’s energy with explosive even quarters, handing the Swarm their first loss of the season.
It didn’t disrupt the Swarm’s 2017 as they became NLL World Champions four months later, and the Swarm have historically been unsuccessful at Pepsi Center. Since 2016, they’ve played the Mammoth seven times but only have two wins to their name – at Pepsi Center, the Swarm have lost all four games played there. Those two wins were earned at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena, but they came a long time ago.
The last time the Mammoth came to Sting City, the Swarm were struggling to gain solid footing and had a 4-5 record. It was a tough back-and-forth battle featuring great defense, but Stephen Keogh’s hat trick goal had enough on it to trickle past Mike Poulin, despite him partially blocking it with his pads. There were under five seconds left in the game when the goal was scored, effectively killing any chance the Swarm had of mustering a comeback.
Since 2016, there are only two teams that have a winning record against the Swarm: the Mammoth and Roughnecks. Both West Division teams rarely visit Sting City, and the Swarm have split the two games the Roughnecks have played in Georgia.
Fortunately, the Swarm have had better luck against the Mammoth when not in Denver, posting a +14 goal differential against them across those three games. But that positive sign of playing better at home can gift one a sense of confidence that may not be warranted.
Which is really the reason for the intro and this long Quick Sting. Just because the Swarm are 2-0 and coming off a pair of commanding victories doesn’t mean we get to assume Game 3 will be a cakewalk. The Mammoth are a good team that played the Saskatchewan Rush close in their Season Opener and bested the defending world champion Roughnecks in overtime last weekend.
They will be the Swarm’s first true test so far this season, and for the Swarm to be successful, they’ll have to best one of the top netminders in the NLL the last few years, one…
In four of the last five games against Colorado, the Swarm have shot eight, 10, 11, and 10 goals past goaltender Dillon Ward. A team that has posted a 13.37 GF/GAME over the last three seasons has been held to just 9.75 GF/GAME in four of the most recent contests against the Mammoth.
Credit is most certainly due to the Mammoth’s strong defensive core, which has been one of the top defenses the last few seasons. In last season’s lone meeting between the two teams, the Mammoth defense held the Swarm to just 41 SOG. With 21 SOFF, the Swarm were able to make just 62 shots – 10 shy of the team’s per game average in 2018-19 – compared to the Mammoth’s 76.
The Swarm are at 71.0 S/GAME this season, and the Mammoth have seen 161 shots against in two games. Allowing roughly 80 shots against in a game – 72% which are on goal – means a lot of work for Ward, but he’s stood tall in front of the black nets, making 100 saves.
We’ve billed Saturday’s game as a goaltending battle, and it’s only fair to take a look at…
THE SWARM’S DEFENSE
We know the scores: four goals against on Nov. 30 against the Rochester Knighthawks, six goals against on Dec. 14 against the Philadelphia Wings. But the shots are important, as the Swarm have seen 144 across those two games, just 98 of which were on target.
It gets even better when you look at what Poulin has done so far. Of his 110:50 min. in net this season, Poulin has allowed just eight goals to get past him and stopped 82 shots. That’s a league-best 4.33 GAA and .911 SV%.
It’s all bad news for the Mammoth offense. Known primarily for their defensive prowess, the Mammoth O hasn’t posted a season GF/GAME above league average…
They led the NLL in GF/GAME in 2012, but the Mammoth have been under the league average in that stat for quite some time. This year is no different. Despite it being early in the season, the Mammoth are a full 1.79 goals under the league average 9.79 GF/GAME.
Of their seven forwards who have suited up this season, six have a shooting percentage that is at or below 13.3%. Their most successful forward is Jacob Ruest with five goals and a 26.3 S%.
To be fair, they’ve played two teams also know for strong defense and goaltending. Any team would have a difficult time trying to score against the Rush and Roughnecks. That’s why the Mammoth have been particularly deadly on the power play, sitting in second in the NLL by cashing in on 60.0% of their man-advantage opportunities. Six of their 16 goals have been from that situation.
Unfortunately for them, they face the only team better than them in a five-on-four situation this Saturday. The Swarm are 66.7% on the power play, also with six power play goals. The Swarm are also playing much better on the penalty kill.
Sitting second in the NLL, the Swarm are closing the door on 83.3% of opponents’ power play chances – 10 for 12. The only team better is the Halifax Thunderbirds, who have allowed just one power play goal against on seven chances. Meanwhile, the Mammoth are eighth in the league in PK%, sitting at 54.6%.
We’re still in the land of small sample sizes, so percentages are going to look good or bad this early for everyone. But while we’re in this land of skewed and outrageous statistics, we’d be remiss if we didn’t examine one of the most impressive percentages in the NLL right now:
That’s Lyle Thompson’s league-leading shooting percentage (minimum of 13 shots). It’s not the highest shooting percentage amongst NLL forwards – heck, it isn’t the highest on the Swarm. Seven different NLL forwards, including Miles Thompson, have a higher shooting percentage. But those seven players have 41 shots between them (none have more than 10 shots this season) compared to Lyle’s 25.
Since we mentioned him, let’s take a second to appreciate Miles’ work this season. He has four goals on eight shots, and all eight have been on net. Shooting 50.0% is impressive enough, but Miles is really picking and hitting his targets. The only other forward connecting on all of his shots is the Rush’s Matthew Dinsdale, but he has yet to record a goal this season. After him and Miles, the only perfect shot-on-goal-percentage players have four or less shots. In fact, Miles is tied with Jean-Luc Chetner of the New York Riptide in leading NLL forwards in shooting percentage, but Miles has four times the shots and goals.
But this was originally about Lyle, and about Lyle this Quick Sting shall stay. And since we’re talking about leaders, let’s compare the 2017 NLL MVP to the current points leaders on all 13 teams:
|Ryan Benesch/Cody Jamieson||HFX||2||3/2||6/7||9||21/17||14.3/11.8|
|Connor Kelly/Dan Lomas||NY||2||3||4||7||30/19||10.0/15.8|
|Kevin Crowley/Kiel Matisz||PHI||1||2/1||2/3||4||18/8||11.1/12.5|
|Tom Schreiber/Dan Craig||TOR||2||3/2||6/7||9||30/14||10.0/14.3|
Granted not everyone has played two games yet, but it’s clear from the graph that Lyle is in his own world right now. His offensive effort is unreal, if unsustainable throughout the course of a season. But if you watch Lyle play, it’s hard to imagine him slowing down. He’s making it look easy every time he’s on the floor, an adult man playing a kid’s game.
What the 27-year-old is doing is can’t-miss-lacrosse, and it’s somehow even more mind-boggling in person. If you haven’t grabbed your tickets yet, now is the perfect time to do so to make sure you can see the best player in the world continue his scoring tear.