A panacea in the form of vengeance against the Calgary Roughnecks (4-8) has uplifted the Georgia Swarm (8-3). The team defeated Calgary 17-8 on St. Patrick’s Day at The Hive. Georgia now continues its home stand with the second of three games, welcoming East Division rival Toronto Rock (6-5) this Friday, March 24. Faceoff is set for 7:35 p.m.
The two clashed in February at Air Canada Centre. Georgia’s only overtime game of the season, assistant captain Shayne Jackson forced overtime with a goal with 3.9 seconds left in regulation, and Johnny Powless – back in his first game of the season – scored the game winner 46 seconds later. Toronto, having suffered a loss last week, will look to build some momentum by closing the season series against Georgia with a win.
As the Rock visits us in our warmer clime, Swarm fans should be check out these five factors going in to Friday’s matchup of the top two East Division teams.
1. Surprisingly Offensive
Georgia – the top offense in the NLL with 396 points (155G, 241A) – showcases MVP-candidate Lyle Thompson and his 70 points (28G, 42A – both team highs). Jordan Hall follows with 51 (13G, 38A) and assistant captain Shayne Jackson with 42 (23G, 19A). After them, the Swarm has four more players who have scored 30 or more points, and Johnny Powless – who has only played in five games – and team captain Jordan MacIntosh round out the double digits with 23 and 22 points respectively. Overall, 21 different players have recorded points for the Swarm.
Normally praised for its stalwart defense, Toronto’s offense shouldn’t be ignored. It ranks fourth in the NLL in GF/GAME with 12.00. Interestingly enough is how spread out the team’s 327 season points are (132G, 195A). Only one player has more than 50 points on the team. Two have 40, and two more have 20. Interestingly enough, Toronto features five different players that have scored 11 points each. Overall, 22 different players have recorded points for the Rock.
So while Toronto barely has a more even spread of points across the board compared to Georgia, the Swarm’s top end is well beyond where Toronto’s top offensive scorers are.
2. Changes in the Locker Room
I spoke last week about Georgia’s difficulties in the first quarter. Georgia started reversing its difficulties in New England, ending the first quarter up 2-1 but ultimately taking the loss. Last week against Calgary, the team was down 4-3 after 15 minutes, but it was close enough for Georgia to not have to stress about closing a gap. This continued stride in the right direction will be important for this Friday’s game against Toronto.
The Rock definitely puts its best effort into the game at the very beginning. Not only is this evident in its two overtime losses, but it becomes more apparent when you look at the teams scoring and shooting by quarter:
–Team Scoring by Quarter–
1ST QTR 2ND QTR 3RD QTR 4TH QTR OT OT
SF SA SF SA SF SA SF SA SF SA
34 25 38 23 30 30 30 30 0 2
–Team Shots by Quarter–
1st QTR 2nd QTR 3RD QTR 4TH QTROT OT
SF SA SF SA SF SA SF SA SF SA
148 124 178 125 139 110 141 141 2 3
In the first half, Toronto outscores and outshoots its opponent by +24 and +77 margins respectively. This shrinks in the second half to even in goals and +29 for shooting. In overtime, the team is -2 in goal differential and -1 in shots. Toronto gets out to a strong start in the first half and then generally matches with its opponent for the second half.
3. A Rose by Any Other Name
Georgia’s biggest challenge on Friday night will be between the pipes: Nick Rose. Rose has strung together a great season so far and is the clear frontrunner for Goaltender of the Year. Here are a few stats Rose leads the NLL in:
Lowest GAA among qualified goalies, 9.77 (Colorado’s Dillion Ward is the closest with 10.39)
Fourth best SV% among qualified goalies, .784
Second most playing time, 663:17 (New England’s Evan Kirk has the most with 683:54, but he also has an extra game under his belt)
Second lowest in GA among goalies with ten or more games (Vancouver’s Tye Belanger has the lowest with 91, but Belanger has also played almost 160 minutes less than Rose)
Definitely helping his case is the rest of Toronto and the team’s ability to control the ball/prevent opponents from shooting, which does a great job of not letting Rose see shots. He sees the lowest amount of shots per minute in the league with .755. The next closest is the Saskatchewan Rush, who have only allowed .768 SPM.
Georgia was in a groove against Calgary last week, collecting 105 loose balls and taking 70 SOG while holding Calgary to only .683 SPM. For Georgia to best the Rock’s rock, it will need to do what it did last week and Toronto has done all season: controlling the ball for the entire game. It definitely helps Georgia’s confidence considering the team scored 13 goals already against Rose.
4. “The American Experiment”
If you watched Georgia and Toronto clash on NLLTV.com earlier this season, you heard the announcer crow “The American Experiment” whenever Tom Schreiber or Kieran McArdle scored against Georgia. It may seem an odd nickname to Swarm fans, but these two players are important pieces of Toronto’s roster, which historically has been filled with Canadian natives.
Both Schreiber and McArdle signed to one-year contracts with the Toronto Rock for the 2017 season. Both Americans are New York state natives. Both have success in Major League Lacrosse, or field lacrosse for those unfamiliar with the league – Schreiber is the reigning MLL MVP and McArdle the 2014 ROY. Neither have ever played box lacrosse.
Toronto decided to try out this low-risk/high-reward experiment after its 5-13 2016 season. Affectionately dubbed “The American Experiment,” it’s safe to say the risk has paid off. Schreiber leads the Rock in points with 57 (18G, 39A) in addition to collecting 51 loose balls. He is the clear frontrunner for 2017 NLL ROY. McArdle has 22 points (10G, 12A) on his way to collect 33 loose balls. Both have caused two turnovers each. Their success on the floor has helped Toronto to second in the East Division.
5. The Incoming Pack
Georgia head coach Ed Comeau believes in concentrating on the opponent in front of you and not stressing out too much over what’s to come afterwards until the final buzzer rings in your current matchup. Toronto will really need to heed this advice because it has a really loud problem nipping on its heels: the New England Black Wolves.
Led by perennial MVP candidate Shawn Evans, the Black Wolves have won three straight games, getting the team to .500 for the first time all season. After a 3-6 start, New England definitely realizes how good its chances are to overtake the Rock this weekend in the standings. Taking on Calgary this week, New England will welcome the Rock to its home at Mohegan Sun Arena the week after, looking to widen its lead if Toronto loses this week.
No way this isn’t on the Toronto staffs’ minds. It's a distracting – and scary – thought.
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