The safety nets are gone; it’s win or go home.
That’s how Georgia Swarm head coach Ed Comeau phrased it earlier this week. Teams have to operate like there’s no tomorrow if they don’t win simply because that’s the case. And when you’re playing a team as evenly matched as you are, in this case the Toronto Rock, then you’re just starting to understand how difficult Monday night will be.
At the same time, this is a momentous occasion to celebrate! Monday Night Lacrosse? A fourth-straight postseason appearance for the Swarm? Finishing the 2018-19 regular season with the second-best record in the league? Home-floor advantage in the East Division Semifinals? There’s too much good ahead for the men in blue and yellow, and let’s celebrate it appropriately with this Hive Five.
We can’t just have a line in here like “playing a team as evenly matched as you are” and treat it as a throwaway, so let’s start by taking a look at some…
DANGEROUS PAIRS OF RIGHTIES
One team boasts the likes of Lyle Thompson (43G, 62A) and Randy Staats (37G, 59A), and the other gets to happily send out Tom Schreiber (29G, 65A) and Rob Hellyer (36G, 50A). Both pairs are some of the most dangerous righthanded duos in the NLL, and both led their respective teams in scoring this season.
Harkening back to the evenly matched line, the Swarm and Rock do have some crazy similar offenses. Each team can say they have six 20+ goal scorers and 40+ points-getters on their side.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that how the top righties on the Swarm and Rock perform will be a key factor in this game, but we’d be ignoring an entire opposite end of the floor. And the Swarm have another deadly duo on the…
The Rock have some deadly lefties in their lineup, too – Adam Jones (25G, 31A), Dan Craig (20G, 28A), Johnny Powless (23G, 21A) and Kieran McArdle (12G, 28A). If you combine the points from their lefty forwards, then they put up 188 points in the regular season. But the 188 points that foursome is responsible for is just 28 points more than what Shayne Jackson and Holden Cattoni put up in their first season playing together.
Jackson (31G, 49A) and Cattoni (27G, 53A) had some strong seasons in blue and yellow. Both put up 80 points apiece, helping to balance the Swarm’s offense. They both tied with Lyle for the most Swarm power play goals, all three putting up eight PPGS.
Part of the reason the Rock’s leftside hasn’t produced as much is because Jones didn’t play in six games this season. For five of those, he was on the Injured List; that sixth game was the backend of a doubleheader right after he returned to the lineup, and he was rested as a precaution. But for those five games, Jones was…
The Rock went 2-3 during those five Jones-less games and averaged 9.40 GF/GAME. With Jones in the lineup, the Rock are 10-2, and the offense performs better, averaging 13.00 GF/GAME. No one player makes a team, but those stats are eyebrow-raising.
For the Swarm, they’re missing Mike Poulin, but not to the same degree as the Rock were missing Jones. The game against the Philadelphia Wings, the Swarm just did not play well in most aspects of the game. Against the Calgary Roughnecks, Kevin Orleman came in to replace the injured starter and made 26 saves, finishing his 32:39 min. in net that night with an .839 SV%.
If you truly want to know where the key difference might be between the Swarm and Rock, it’ll probably come down to how their…
Poulin had himself one of the best seasons of his 14-year career. Over 899:32 min. of action, the Kitchener, Ontario native finished with an 11-4 record to go with his 10.94 GAA and .791 SV%.
Standing on the opposite end of the floor from him will more than likely be Nick Rose, who had himself quite a campaign, as well. Rose finished with a new career-high in minutes (1028:03 – second most in the NLL), wins (12 – second most in the NLL) and saves (675 – fourth most in the NLL). For the 2018-19 season, the Orangeville, Ontario netminder posted an 11.73 GAA and a .771 SV%.
But as Comeau likes to say, your defense is a product of your goaltending, and your goaltending is a product of your defense. And again, here’s where the Swarm and Rock are similar. The Swarm are sixth in the NLL in goals against at 11.67 GA/GAME, and the Rock come in at fifth with 11.50 GA/GAME. Looking at their penalty kill, we see the Swarm are ninth, shutting down 51.39% of opponent’s opportunities. The Rock are last in the league, only stopping 48.39% of opposing power play chances.
For two teams so evenly matched, we really need to start looking for distinct differences between the two, and there might not be a bigger advantage for the Swarm than…
This season, the Swarm are 7-2 on Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena and have a +16 goal differential. They convert 51.7% of home power play chances, killing 48.6% of visiting teams’ man-up situations.
The Rock are 4-5 on the road in 2018-19 with a -8 goal differential. Their road power play stands at 44.7%, and their road penalty kill is last in the NLL at 43.6%.
If we look at the last time the Rock played in Infinite Energy Arena, they went home with a harsh loss, having been held to just five goals in a 14-5 Swarm win. But that’s just one game, so let’s look deeper at TORvsGA games in Sting City. Since 2016, the two division rivals have played each other five times in Georgia, and the Swarm have won four of those games, posting a +15 goal differential; nine of those goals came in just this past game, however. The Swarm also have a 12.40 GF/GAME and 9.40 GA/GAME when the Rock come to town.
Of the ten regular season contests between the two since 2016, half have been decided by just one goal.
This is why that home game for the Swarm on March 22 was so important. Winning would give them the tiebreaker against the Rock if the two ended up with the same regular season record, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. The Swarm are 4-1 up in Scotiabank Arena since 2016, but the GF/ and GA/GAME are 13.20 and 12.20, indicating much closer games are played across the northern border.
Home is where the heart is and where the Swarm play some of their best lacrosse. And while we can’t know what the results will be until 60 minutes of lacrosse have been played, we do expect to be treated to some of the best lacrosse you will see this year.
The safety nets are gone; it’s win or go home.
The Swarm’s postseason is presented by Reeves Young. Early arriving fans can receive Swarm rally towels courtesy of Reeves Young. Tickets for the East Division Semifinals start as low as $19 and are on sale now at GeorgiaSwarm.com/Playoffs. Ticket packages include two-game and four-game playoff packs and are available by calling 844-4-GASWARM.
Monday’s game will be broadcast on the B/R Live app available through iTunes, Google Play, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire. Fans can also listen to the game on Atlanta Sports X 1230 AM/106.3 FM.
The 2019 NLL Playoffs are sponsored by Michelob Ultra.