It may only be the midpoint of the season but every game in the East Division is starting to feel more like the playoffs.
That will almost certainly be the case again on Sunday, March 11 when the Toronto Rock and the New England Black Wolves meet for the first of a crucial home-and-home series.
Coming into Week 14, the East Division standings are as unpredictable as ever with all five teams within one game of each other. The Black Wolves (5-4) are tied for top spot with the Buffalo Bandits (6-5) while the Rock (5-5) come into Sunday’s game in third, 0.5 games back of the leaders.
Sunday’s game will be the second of the three-game season series after the Rock trounced the Black Wolves in the first meeting 21-9 at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 27. Toronto’s win in January was part of a four-game winning streak when the Rock were brimming with offensive confidence. But now, the team is struggling to score and has lost three of its past four games.
Since Tom Schreiber went down with a knee injury on Feb. 10, the Rock have averaged 10 goals in the two games without their American star – well below the 15 goals Toronto had averaged in the first eight games of the season with Schreiber in the lineup.
The scoring struggles were particularly evident in the Rock’s last game as the offense was held to a season-low seven goals against the Georgia Swarm.
“Tom is a great player but we have plenty of guys in our room that can get the job done,” Rock leading scorer Adam Jones told NLL.com. “We have a deep team up front. I’m not too worried. Overall, we’ve had a strong year offensively. You don’t want to get too far away from what has made us successful.”
“Crucial part of the season”
The Rock and the Black Wolves will become very familiar with one another as the two squads will meet again five days after Sunday’s game for the back end of the home-and-home on Friday, March 16 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It is a pretty crucial part of the season,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said. “The next two games are against New England. We are sitting at 5-5. We are in a battle in the East for a playoff spot. We better figure out [the offensive struggles] in a hurry.”
Sunday’s game will feature the new-look New England Black Wolves after the team traded two-time NLL MVP Shawn Evans and a fourth-round pick to the Bandits for Callum Crawford and a second-round pick on Feb. 28. The move came a week after the Black Wolves also acquired Johnny Powless from the Georgia Swarm for two draft picks.
New England comes into Week 14 with the second fewest goals scored per game (11.33) in the league. Although Evans led the Black Wolves in scoring before the trade, New England head coach Glenn Clark feels Crawford and Powless will bring a new spark.
“Our offense has been struggling quite a bit this year,” Clark said to NLL.com. “We are not pinning that on Shawn. We feel that Johnny and Callum are going to give us a different complexion of offense. Sometimes it is about changing the pieces to give you something you need more of. That’s what these deals were all about.”
After a 4-1 record to start the season, the Black Wolves have struggled with just one win in their last four games – a stretch which started with the blowout loss to the Rock on Jan. 27.
“Toronto put a pretty good number on us last time,” Clark said of the 21-9 defeat. “We don’t think that score was indicative of our team but now we have to prove it. This gives us an opportunity for redemption against the Rock.”
Sunday’s game is a rare 3 p.m. ET start at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. For tickets, head to www.torontorock.com. Fans can tune in online to NLL TV for live coverage of the East Division clash.