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LAXMetrics Week 17: Rush Reasons for Optimism

Who are the most dangerous teams in the NLL that we aren’t talking about enough?

Depending on how you look for evidence, there may be many answers to the question above. It would be reasonable to look at goal totals or goals against averages for guidance, just as it would be valid to consider individual star power. In this piece, we’re going to attempt to answer the query using advanced stats provided by LaxMetrics.com.

The first item for us to consider is the LaxMetrics Record Projections page. These projections are the product of a Pythagorean win percentage formula that considers goals scored and goals allowed, raising each to a power of 5.25. The formula is adapted from one that is used extensively in other sports like baseball, basketball, and football. Examine the chart below and see if there is anything that jumps out to you.

Your eyes should have immediately jumped to three teams: the Calgary Roughnecks, Halifax Thunderbirds, and Saskatchewan Rush. Those three teams have underperformed their win projections by the greatest margins, yet each remain firmly in the playoff hunt. In the case of the Thunderbirds, they look well-positioned to eventually win one of the six postseason berths still up for grabs.

Of the three teams in question, the Saskatchewan Rush are the most perplexing. It might be a bit of a leap to label them the most dangerous team currently under .500, but there is a real case for optimism when considering Saskatchewan’s postseason prospects. It seem a bit foolish to make this case immediately following the Rush’s two-loss weekend, but the advanced stats still tell an interesting story that is worth amplifying. The reason is simple: defense.

For much of the season, the Rush have been among the league’s most efficient scoring offenses, while struggling to locate any kind of consistency in the back end. Their defense has been porous, allowing an overall defensive shooting percentage of 20.2%, which ranks 14th in the league, ahead of only Rochester (20.5%). While Albany struggled defensively in the season’s early going before turning a corner, the Rush have largely stuck to their early-season script all year. But the story is a bit more complicated when examining Saskatchewan’s defense.

While the overall stats suggest that the Rush have massive defensive problems, they may only be a few added saves per game away from turning a corner statistically. This past weekend’s loss to Georgia serves as an excellent illustration of this idea. While the Rush conceded nine second-half goals, they also held Georgia scoreless in the first half and rode a steady performance from goaltender Frank Scigliano into the break. It’s unlikely that the Rush can consistently replicate the kind of defense that they played in the first half of Sunday’s loss, but the Swarm’s goal total was an excellent reflection of Saskatchewan’s defensive potential.

Yes, the argument that the Rush are on the brink of turning a corner defensively may seem crazy at the moment. The team allowed an average of 14.7 goals per game in the three contests before limiting Georgia to seven goals on Sunday. It would be easy to dismiss Sunday’s performance as a fluke if the Rush were consistently getting bombarded by 1-v-1 shots and breakaways. But that is not the case. Consider the work Saskatchewan’s defense has done limiting the number of elite scoring chances opposing offenses create.

The Rush have allowed just 83 1-v-1 shots this year, which is the second-fewest in the league next to Buffalo’s 78. While Saskatchewan may be vulnerable to giving up explosive quarters, those scoring barrages haven’t been the product of a lot of defensive breakdowns. Generally speaking, the Rush have done a good job forcing opponents to take the types of shots goaltenders generally want to see. Stopping those shots has been a different story. Limiting the number of 1-v-1 chances that they surrender is just one point of evidence. There is another excellent indicator to consider.

 

 

Saskatchewan has surrendered the fewest breakaway chances of any team in the NLL this year. The Rush (7) and the Bandits (9) are the only two teams to have allowed fewer than 10 breakaways this year. Just as Saskatchewan has done an excellent job preventing 1-v-1 chances, the guys from the prairie have consistently cut off reverse transition chances. This means that the holes in the Rush defense have come in settled situations.

The reason that optimism is warranted when considering Saskatchewan’s defense is because of who they have between the pipes—Frank Scigliano. For the last three seasons, Scigliano has shown flashes of elite skill and ability intermixed with stretches of prolonged struggles. This season had been much of the same until his season-best performance against Georgia on the second half of a road back-to-back this weekend. It may only be one game of evidence, but it appears that Scigliano is getting stronger and more comfortable in his new colors. Should the big man in cage continue to flash what he showed on Sunday, Saskatchewan has a real chance to make a push for the postseason.

Offensively, the Rush have mostly been pretty consistent this season. Their Offensive Rating of 128.62 ranks fourth in the league, just behind Buffalo. Once again, the parallels to the Bandits bubble to the surface. The Rush have been an exceptionally close parallel to the Bandits, who are currently locked in playoff positioning at 7-7 on the year.

The principal difference between the two clubs has been as simple as the quality of goaltending that they have received. While Matt Vinc hasn’t been as dominant as he has been in past seasons and has also dealt with injuries, the Bandits have had fewer highs and lows in net than the Rush. The formula for the Rush is incredibly simple: a few more saves per game are all that separates them from being a virtual carbon copy of a likely playoff team.

They may be playing for their postseason lives this week, but the Rush are one of the more dangerous teams battling for the final six playoff spots. Don’t let their record fool you, Saskatchewan is a couple of small pieces away from turning a major corner.

 

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