Last weekend the New England Black Wolves suffered their first loss of the season, an 11-10 overtime defeat at the hands of the Georgia Swarm. Though they are no longer unbeaten, the Black Wolves (4-1) still sit atop the East Division standings. Looking to avenge their first loss, New England welcomes Vancouver (2-3) to Mohegan Sun Arena for a Saturday night matchup.
Saturday’s contest will be New England’s second of the season against a West Division opponent, and Vancouver’s third against the East. The game marks the 23rd between the two clubs with New England holding a 14-8 edge over Vancouver. The Black Wolves have defeated the Warriors eight out of 11 times that they have entered The Den at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Black Wolves have had a challenging schedule to start the season, as much on the floor as off. Glenn Clark’s group sat idle for two weeks while the rest of the National Lacrosse League opened the season, only to have three more weeks off to start 2020. Since their last layoff, New England has looked to have some difficulty shaking off the rust on the offensive side, an offense that was tops in the league before the time off.
The last two games for New England have produced the lowest offensive numbers of the season. In their comeback, overtime victory over Philadelphia, New England was kept to a season-low eight goals. That was only one game, but three weeks after the Black Wolves had a 21 goal explosion against New York. New England was also held to a season-low in shots during last week’s overtime loss to Georgia.
In that loss to Georgia, New England’s leading scorer Callum Crawford broke a stretch of four straight hat tricks to start the season as he was only able to put two in the Georgia net. Crawford’s 16 goals are good for fourth in the NLL and his 35 points rank fifth, with many of the players ahead of him playing two and three more games.
A major bright spot for New England early on has been the play of rookie Andrew Kew, who is second on the team with 24 points (8G, 16A). Kew also ranks second among NLL rookies in points and assists. The Black Wolves’ offense is also helped along by Reilly O’Connor (10G, 7A), Joe Resetarits (8G, 12A), and Stephan Leblanc (5G, 13A).
New England comes in with the league’s top special teams units, ranking first in both, power play (12 for 20) and penalty kill (68.4%). Though it has slowed in recent games, the Black Wolves offense is still second in the NLL, averaging 12.6 goals per game, while only giving up an average of nine goals per game.
Even with all these high rankings for New England, this Vancouver team is not one to take lightly. “Vancouver is a much stronger team than their record indicates,” Coach Glenn Clark warned. “They are well balanced and have some very dangerous weapons on offense.”
One of those weapons is Mitch Jones, who will surely keep the Black Wolves defense and goaltender very busy on Saturday night. Jones is second in the league having taken 103 shots in six games, averaging 17.17 shots per game. Jones leads the Warriors with 36 points (14G, 22A) but he is tied for top on the team in goals with Jordan McBride. McBride is one of the best in the NLL in making his shots count as he ranks fourth in the league with a .246 shooting percentage. Another guy to keep an eye on is Keegan Bal who is the helper of the group with 21 of his 28 points being assists.
Making the choppy, early season schedule a little easier is the fact the New England is in the midst of a six game homestand that started on December 27th and will conclude on February 22nd. Even early in the season, this homestand was circled for New England as a part of the schedule where they could make some noise and distance themselves from the rest of the East Division, in part because four of the six are against teams from the East.
Even after dropping last week’s game to in-division rival, Georgia, the Black Wolves could widen the gap in the East with the remaining three games of this homestand. Before Saturday’s game the two teams below New England will battle it out when Georgia visits Philadelphia on Friday. The East leading Black Wolves have games in hand on each of the other three teams in the division. Philadelphia, who is the closest team to New England in the standings, has played two more games that the Black Wolves and will make another trip back to Mohegan Sun Arena in two weeks.
New England and Vancouver are set to face off on Saturday night at 7:00 P.M. EST in front of what promises to be a raucous crowd at The Den as they enjoy “Here for the Beer” night at Mohegan Sun Arena. Following the game, fans 21 and over will be able to sample beers from over 10 different local breweries. The Black Wolves will have another week off following this one as they prepare for that matchup with the Wings on February 16th.