Ending a three-game road trip with two well-earned wins against two division rivals at the top of the NLL standings is a pretty great way to call it a month and return home. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with downing a regular rival. That being said, there’s the reverse side of that: being the team that falls to a division opponent.
And for how great the Swarm’s three-game road trip in January ended, boy oh boy did it start on the wrong foot as they fell to the expansion New York Riptide in overtime on Jan. 18. Swarm head coach Ed Comeau is a fan of celebrating wins for 24 hours and reflecting on losses for 24 hours.
We can be sure they tried to follow that philosophy and have that third loss out of their minds at the end of Jan. 19, but after talking with players following the win in Philly and leading up to this game, you can tell their rematch against the Riptide on Feb. 15 at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena…
HAS BEEN ON THEIR MIND
Can you blame them? That was a game they had in hand – 10-6 with 10:30 min. left to go – before the Riptide scored as many goals in 10 minutes as they had the preceding 50 minutes, forcing overtime. Losing a game you were in control of means you took your foot off the gas pedal, something uncharacteristic of this well-coached and disciplined squad.
And from everything I’ve been told by players and coaches, they are aware of that fact. Credit to New York – they earned that win by never quitting and taking advantage of a team that seemingly expected to coast to a victory.
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That’s really why the second game of this season series has been so eagerly anticipated. The Swarm want to show they learned the lessons imparted by that loss and control the game from the beginning. What we saw on Jan. 18 was not the Georgia Swarm way, and the men proved that against New England and Philadelphia. But evening the season series with the Riptide will be the best validation of the Swarm’s style of game.
It won’t be easy. The Riptide may be a 1-8 team, but they’re still a pro lacrosse team that can win games, as we saw a month ago. And they’ll more than likely have a weapon back they didn’t have in their arsenal on Jan. 18, one…
The 24-year-old University of Maryland alum was the healthy scratch that night for the Riptide. While we can’t play “what might have been” given that game’s results, we can look at recent history for the young forward.
When the Riptide played the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday, Feb. 8, Kelly led the Riptide offense with five points (4G, 1A). He was dangerous in the second half of the game as he started to take more command of the offense and crash the cage, which you can see in the below highlight video.
(That last goal is a reminder of why dunk goals are not my favorite. Nothing against Kelly scoring it or when others score similar goals – his job is to get the ball past the goalie while following the rules, and he did just that. I just don’t like them on principle.)
Kelly kept working his way to the crease and trying his best to net a couple of jumping and diving goals. The 14 shots he took are a new career-high for him.
He’s taking noticeable steps forward in his second season of pro box lacrosse. While his accuracy is down compared to his rookie season with San Diego, Kelly is turning the ball over less, just eight times in eight games compared to 12 in seven games with the Seals.
It was the second time in his young career that the Easton, Connecticut native has netted four goals. Time will tell how he follows that game up, and Saturday’s game will be the first time he’ll ever face the…
It’s been an up and down and up season for the Swarm defense this season.
After starting the first two games averaging 5.0 GA/GAME, they averaged 14.0 GA/GAME over the next three. The Swarm allowed just 10 and 11 goals against when they played the Black Wolves and Wings, and 10.5 GA/GAME feels like the sweet spot for this Swarm defense.
So, what we got were two extremes through the first five games – historically glorious at first and Not_Great_Bob.gif following that up. Games 6 and 7 were what is known as regression toward the mean.
What that means is we’re probably where the Swarm defense is going to live – giving up between 10-12 goals in a game, and their per game numbers support that. They are eighth in the NLL in GA/GAME at 10.83, which in a normal, non-year-of-the-goalie season would be top three (last season, the top defensive team had a 10.33 GA/GAME. In 2018, it was 10.89 GA/GAME. 2017, 11.06 GA/GAME. 2016, 10.56 GA/GAME – you get the point, holy crap are defenses and netminders playing out of their minds this season).
Goaltender Mike Poulin is playing some of the best lacrosse of his long career. He currently has a 10.22 GAA and .785 SV%. Against the Black Wolves and Riptide, he made some absolutely key saves late in the games to keep things either even or the Swarm ahead.
Lion helmets are known to be effectively scary | Photo Credit: Khoi Ton
The Swarm defense is second in the NLL for shots against per game (SA/GAME), currently sitting at 48.34. That’s over four shots less per game than the league average. They’re doing a great job of either forcing shots away or facilitating opposing shot clock violations.
But a team that’s not doing a great job at that? The Riptide, which has been bad news for…
Barring something dramatic happening resulting in Buque not coming down to ATL, the seven-season netminder will be either on the floor or on the bench in his 100th NLL game on Saturday (he’s played in 59).
It’ll be the Swarm’s job to celebrate Buque’s 100th game by giving him a gift he won’t enjoy – a loss. He doesn’t have too many of those from the Swarm, and we’re big believers in the Rule of 3 here.
This time around, he’s behind a defense that allows 54.67 SA/GAME – fourth most in the NLL. It’s taken a toll on his season statistics, as his 13.72 GAA and .744 SV% are the worst in the NLL amongst all netminders with more than – oh wow, every goalie except for Tyler Carlson with Colorado – who has just 8:37 min. of playing time this season – and the Riptide backup Gowah Abrams. Abrams has played just 52:28 min. and allowed 12 goals against, and his save percentage is 2.5% higher than Buque’s.
The Riptide defense has to be taken advantage of if the Swarm hope to get back to .500 at…
The loss to the Mammoth and Bandits meant the Swarm are 1-2 at home this season, belying Sting City’s imposing buzz. Every team wants to take full advantage of their home floor and give the fans a good show. There are still six home games left this season, and that first step to dominance at home involves winning the rematch against the Riptide.
An offense ranked third in the NLL will have to rain down the shots against the Riptide. Four forwards are on pace for 85+ points – Shayne Jackson (on pace for 113 points), Randy Staats (95), Lyle Thompson (90), and Jordan Hall (85). The Swarm defense, as touched on earlier, shows where it will most likely live at, and the best way to balance that out is for the Swarm offense – which we know what it can be cause we’ve seen it impose its will against opponents for the last few seasons – to bury their deluge of shots into the intertwined black cords tethered to red pipes.
The plan on Saturday? For the Swarm to send a message to the NLL, fans, and themselves that what happened a month ago was an aberration.
Expect – nay, demand a full 60 minutes of Swarm lacrosse on Saturday.
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