After suffering defeat at the tusks of the Colorado Mammoth, your Georgia Swarm returns home to Harrah’s Cherokee Field at Infinite Energy Arena ready to get back to what it does best: handle opposing teams with unselfish offense and aggressive defense. The team’s game Saturday, Feb. 11, will be against constant rival – the New England Black Wolves – for the second time this season. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.
While you prepare to come out and support your first place Georgia Swarm, here are five things for you to know about this week’s matchup:
1. Home is where the Heart is
Fortunately for New England, the team finally left the road and its losing ways behind it. After starting the season 0-3, the Black Wolves returned to Mohegan Sun Arena and gained momentum with two wins. Unfortunately for New England, they go back on the road to take on the Georgia Swarm. And while Georgia may have finally lost a game, that was on the road. At The Hive, the team is still undefeated (2-0), and guess which team contributed to its losing streak and Georgia’s winning streak? I’ll give you a hint: we play them tomorrow night.
2. The Quiet Goaltending from NE Evan Kirk
The 2016 Goaltender of the Year has been odd this year. Last year, he finished the season with a 11.79 GAA and a .789 SV%. Kirk’s practically doing the same thing this year, currently sporting a 11.89 GAA and a .776 SV%, but he’s only turned in one fantastic game, last week’s matchup against Rochester. In that game, Kirk only allowed nine goals on 55 shots, a GAA of 8.73 and a .836 SV%. Since the Black Wolves’ first game of the season in which Kirk allowed 15 goals, he hasn’t let more than 12 get by him in any matchup.
So what can we expect from Kirk? If you erase his one bad game, the season opener against Rochester, Kirk has a 10.97 GAA and a .785 SV%. But if I’m going to play that game, then erasing Mike Poulin’s “worst” game of the season gives him a 10.32 GAA and a .836 SV%. Like Georgia head coach Ed Comeau likes to say, “Different teams groove and get together at different times,” and it’s why he refuses to let his Swarm get complacent. Expect the worst, plan from there.
3. One Goal Games
New England’s recent hot streak comes with a glaring caveat. They’ve only one those games by one goal, and both of those goals came in do-or-die situations. Against the Buffalo Bandits, Kevin Crowley netted the game winning goal with under a minute left in regulation play. Then last week against the Rochester Knighthawks, New England was forced to decide things in overtime as Rochester’s Joe Resetarits in the last minute of the fourth quarter as Rochester pulled the goalie for an extra attacker. Fortunately for New England, Chad Culp was able to decide things quickly in overtime.
In five of New England’s games, three are one-goal games. The team is 2-1 in such games. The other two games saw New England losing by more than five goals in each matchup, one against your Georgia Swarm. New England may have some momentum, but having a one-goal lead against Georgia is nowhere near enough of a cushion.
4. Get THEM Mad
While Georgia may very well be looking to take some aggression out on its constant foe, don’t expect a game of nothing but penalties. Georgia only has allowed 26 power play opportunities all season, but New England leads the league in this stat, having allowed 38 of them.
To be fair, New England was practically polite last Friday against the Rochester Knighthawks, committing only three penalties resulting in power play opportunities for Rochester. But as polite as the Black Wolves were, the Knighthawks practically held every door open for New England with a “Thank you kindly, dear sir” as Rochester refused to let New England have any power play chances.
Bluntly, it’s in Georgia’s best interest to be passive aggressive against New England, much like the players were three weeks ago. New England has allowed the most power play goals in the NLL with 20 and sports a 47.37 PK% (penalty killing percentage). The Black Wolves recorded a season high 38 penalty minutes in its first game against Georgia, thanks in large part by the Shawn Evans ejection in the fourth quarter. Georgia, successful 58.06% of the time on power play opportunities, will happily let New England penalty box itself into a loss.
5. The Silent Assassins
Jordan Hall has been often referred to (by me) as the silent assassin on the Swarm, recording a team-high 20 assists. Unfortunately, Colorado held him pointless last Saturday, but another player stepped up from the shadows to take Hall’s place: Jerome Thompson.
While younger brother Miles Thompson (10G, 4A) prefers to make highlight reels and even younger brother Lyle Thompson (14G, 16A) prefers to smoothly make his MVP case, Jerome has quietly taken the role as the set-up man. He hasn’t scored a goal since the Swarm’s second game of the season, but he has recorded four assists every game since to put his total up at 16 for the season, tied with Lyle for second-most on the team.
Georgia is an unselfish Swarm when on offense, but having two players quietly be altruists and support everyone else on the floor definitely helps Georgia continue to roll out the best offense in the NLL.
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