The New England Black Wolves are off to their best start in franchise history after an emotional overtime victory over their rivals from Philadelphia last weekend. New England (4-0) now continues a lengthy home stand as they welcome Georgia (2-3) on Sunday afternoon, looking to earn their 5th straight win to start the season.
The Black Wolves shook off the rust after two straight bye weeks to come from behind and beat the Wings last Saturday. After going down 5-2 in the first half, New England flipped the script on Philadelphia outscoring them 5-2 in the second half. Callum Crawford capped off the comeback with an overtime winner, also completing his fourth hat trick in four games.
In a game that saw the Black Wolves get off to a sluggish start, the defense and goaltending kept the game within reach. Doug Jamieson stopped 23 of 27 shots to help weather the storm as New England was outshot 27-22 in the first half. Jamieson finished the game with a season-high 50 saves.
On that same Saturday, Georgia was in New York for the Riptide’s home opener. The Swarm were up 9-5 heading to the final quarter, only to see the Riptide battle back with seven goals to tie the score and send the game to overtime. After tying the game with two seconds left, New York scored 2:10 into overtime to earn their first win in the franchise’s inaugural season. Making that a tougher pill to swallow for Georgia was that the loss was their third straight, after starting the season 2-0.
After opening the season with dominant wins of 14-4 and 12-6 over Rochester and Philadelphia, respectively, Georgia has hit a bit of a snag on the defensive end, giving up 42 goals in their last three games. As the Swarm comes limping in to Mohegan Sun Arena, the Black Wolves are flying high. New England has won their first four games by an average of 4.75 goals and lead the league in goals for, averaging 13.2 goals per game. On the other end of the floor, the Black Wolves are only giving up 8.5 goals per game, third in the National Lacrosse League.
Digging deeper into the numbers shows that this game could be quite the seesaw battle. New England’s strongest quarters are the first and last while Georgia seems to take control in the middle two quarters. The Black Wolves have outscored opponents 25-9 in the first and fourth quarters while the margin closes to 27-25 in the second and third. Contrary, the Swarm have had a 35-21 advantage in the middle of the game, while being outscored 24-30 in the bookend quarters.
The two East Division rivals are also the top two special teams groups in the NLL. New England carries the top penalty kill unit while Georgia rides the league’s most lethal power play, scoring on 14 of 23 man advantages (60.9%). The Black Wolves power play is only percentage points behind the Swarm, having scored on nine of 15 opportunities (60%) this season.
New England is led in all three offensive categories by Callum Crawford (14G, 16A). In addition to Crawford, the league’s top offense has had consistent contributions from Reilly O’Connor (9G, 6A), Joe Resetarits (8G, 9A), and Stephan Leblanc (4G, 13A). Leblanc has made the most of his four goals with half of them being game winning goals. The tremendous addition of Andrew Kew has made this offense even deeper and more productive from a year ago. Kew’s 19 points and 13 assists are second among NLL rookies, while his six goals are third best among first year players. Making the offensive rankings of New England’s players even more incredible is the fact that many of the players ahead of them have played two or three more games than the Black Wolves.
On the back end, transition stud Tony Malcom has picked up a team high 37 loose balls and added two goals and four assists to prove a valuable part of the Black Wolves success this season. Brett Manney, Nick Chaykowsky, Mack Mitchell, and Greg Downing have steadied the defense in front of Doug Jamieson who has enjoyed the best start of his career to this point. Jamieson has stopped 171 shots in four games this season and carries a .834 save percentage heading into Sunday.
In their last game, Jamieson and the Black Wolves defense shut down the NLL’s leading goal scorer, Brett Hickey, and on Sunday they will face the league’s second highest scorer, Shayne Jackson. Jackson (15G, 15A) is accompanied by the league’s top assist man, Randy Stats, who fills out the trio tied for fourth in the NLL with 30 points, along with New England’s Crawford. Not to be forgotten are proven scorers Lyle Thompson (13G, 14A) and Jordan Hall (4G, 19A).
New England and Georgia are set to face off at 1 P.M. at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday afternoon. This will be the first of three matchups between the two East Division foes. The latter two contests will not come until the Black Wolves final four games on the regular season.