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LAXMetrics Week 10: Keys to Riptide’s Run

The New York Riptide have turned a corner.

After stumbling out of the gate to begin the season, New York has won four of five games and is in playoff position. But the development of the team’s success didn’t come suddenly. The signs were in place well before New York turned its struggling start into a furious run.

Offensively, New York’s scoring numbers were destined to climb from its 0-3 start. The Riptide averaged 8.0 goals per game in that stretch, despite creating more than 27 Total First Order Chances (quality scoring opportunities) per game. The only missing ingredient on that side of the ball was the team’s ability to convert chances into goals. During their three-game losing streak, the Riptide converted only 20% of possible chances into goals, which is a number that was unsustainably low. The league average is closer to 26-27%, which is where we can reasonably expect most teams to finish the season. What’s happened during the team’s five-game run? New York’s conversion rate has skyrocketed to 43.7%, raising its season conversion rate to almost exactly 27%, perfectly in line with the league average.

 

But just as important as the team’s tremendous improvement in conversion rate is its increased production of top-quality chances. New York’s best output of total chances over its first three games was 31 against Philadelphia in a season-opening 13-10 loss on December 2. Since beating that same Wings team 16-9 on January 7, the Riptide have averaged 32.2 Total First Order Chances per game. Not only are they converting chances at a vastly higher rate, they’re creating significant more chances that have the potential to become goals.

 

 

While it’s easy to assume that Jeff Teat’s production has been the driving force in New York’s offensive explosion, the truth actually points in a different direction. Connor Kearnan has been the catalyst that has ignited the Riptide offense. Kearnan created 5.0 Total First Order Chances per game during the team’s 0-3 start, but has been responsible for 7.0 per game during the team’s last five games. Yes, Teat is scoring at a greater rate, accounting for at least four goals in each of the Riptide’s last five games after scoring just five times in their first three games. But at least a portion of Teat’s scoring progress can be attributed to Kearnan’s work on the opposite side of the floor creating opportunities.

Look no further than Week 10 for evidence. Teat tallied four goals on 13 shots, while Kearnan contributed a season-high 13 Total First Order Chances, including four First Order Assists—three of which came on Teat goals. The Riptide have gone from a one-man show to a two-headed monster on offense.

On the opposite end of the floor, the defense has made similar strides during the team’s last five games. After allowing a miserable Defensive Shooting Percentage of 20.1% during its 0-3 start, the Riptide have allowed just 17.2% shooting over the last five contests. New York was burned for shooting percentages of 25% or higher twice during its winless start, but has only allowed a shooting percentage over 20% once in the five games since. That one effort—23.1% against Panther City—also happened to come in the team’s only loss during its most recent five-game stretch. In the four games that New York has won, the Riptide have held each opponent under 20% shooting, including three games of 17% or lower.

Whereas Kearnan was the catalyst out the front door, the man between the pipes, Cameron Dunkerley, has been the instigator of New York’s defensive success during its recent 4-1 run. Dunkerley has made a habit of stopping tough shots in the Riptide’s winning efforts, stopping more than 68% of the 1-v-1 shots that he’s faced over the last five games, well above the pace of 58% that he set during the team’s rough 0-3 start. More important than Dunkerley’s play, however, is the Riptide’s work preventing the toughest shots from materializing. New York allowed 29 1-v-1 shots during the team’s first three games, an eye-popping average of 9.7 per game. In the last five games, Dunkerley has faced more than nine 1-v-1’s only once (Week 10) and has only had to defend an average of 7.0 per game. It’s a modest improvement mathematically, but when you combine that progress with Dunkerley’s enhanced performance, it’s a recipe for allowing fewer easy goals. Yes, the Riptide are still allowing a lot of goals. The team has allowed 12.4 goals per contest over the last five games, but is now making teams work harder to score.

The key to the Riptide’s success going forward rests in their ability to shave at least another goal off their per-game average. Because the offense has been so staggeringly efficient over the last five games, we have to be cautious about what we expect its production to look like in the future. New York’s season First Order Conversion Rate of 27% is perfectly sustainable, but the clip of almost 44% that the team has enjoyed over the last five games is absolutely not sustainable. As the offense regresses a little bit toward the average once again, it will be imperative for the defense to continue its progress.

Given the team’s overall improvement, it’s perfectly reasonable to draw the conclusion that New York is a playoff contender moving forward.

With an elite offense and a defense that appears to be getting better, the guys from the island are every bit alive in the March to May. The next two games will offer a tremendous stress test of the group’s progress, however, as the Seals and Rock come to Nassau Coliseum. San Diego has won four consecutive games and Toronto is the only remaining one-loss team in the NLL. If the Riptide can pull off one or two wins against the league’s top clubs, the conversation will have to take another step forward.

Should the Riptide be 6-4 at the end of Week 13, it might be fair to make the club’s case as a contender for the NLL Championship, not just a playoff spot. But for now, let’s revel in the team’s improvement and excitedly await the next tests on the schedule.

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