The formula for the Colorado Mammoth to make the 2019 NLL Playoffs is quite simple: win, and they’re in. They’ll have a shot to do that Friday night when they host the Rochester Knighthawks at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
This season has been a tumultuous one for the Mammoth but the team’s performance during this final third of the year has gone closer to the way that Mammoth head coach Pat Coyle and his staff of Shawn Williams and Andrew McBride would have liked. They have one more important regular season goal: clinch a playoff spot.
To do that, the Mammoth will need to play better than they did in the last 55 minutes of their 9-7 loss against the Saskatchewan Rush last weekend. While the team has found much success from the youth on offence, this past game the team played down to their age according to Coyle.
“I felt like we looked like a really young offence that game, that we looked our age,” said Coyle. “Saskatchewan has a bunch of strong, veteran, athletic defenders and they want you to feel pressured and rushed. With experience, you don’t let the defence do that to you as much.”
“We need a little more poise when we play them,”
Although it’s a little too late, since the Knighthawks are out of playoff contention, this week’s visitors appear to have recently turned a corner in their season, much like the Mammoth. They are on a two-game winning streak after defeating two East Division playoff teams (Toronto Rock and New England Black Wolves).
Since returning from injury, Jake Withers has injected life back into the face-off dot and the back-end, making the Knighthawks look like a more formidable squad. He is arguably the best man at the face-off X in the NLL, which will pose a challenge for the Mammoth’s Tim Edwards going against him.
The acquisition of former Mammoth forward Ryan Benesch has also pushed the team in a new direction. In his last three games, Benesch has six goals and fours assists including a hat trick of goals and assists his last time out. This is Benesch’s first time back to the Pepsi Center since they trade back in mid-March.
Coyle believes that there is possibly a way to steal an advantage from Withers and the Knighthawks even if his Mammoth can’t win the majority of the draws.
“We know that Withers is probably going to win 70% of the draws,” said Coyle. “But maybe that’s something we can turn into an advantage for us in a different way. We’ll just have to see if there are things we can do.”
Another key matchup on Friday evening is the battle between the pipes. The Knighthawks surely know what to expect when facing Dillon Ward, but the Mammoth have never faced Warren Hill who has started the last three Knighthawks games.
With the amount of film that is provided for teams each week, there is still plenty to study up on, but it’s not the same as seeing someone play in person.
“I would say the goaltending is the biggest X-factor because we haven’t played against [Hill], we just have film to go on,” said Coyle.
Both Hill and Ward have shined in their last two games. They are allowing nine and eight goals against them respectively in that span and appear to be settling into a groove.
However, Coyle doesn’t want to let Withers, Hill, Benesch and the rest of the Knighthawks spoil the Mammoth’s final home game of the year (depending on how deep their run in the playoffs is). While the Mammoth seem to be hitting their stride at the right time of the year, they’ve only won three games at home this season. Coyle believes it’d be nice to finish the regular season on a high note.
“I believe we consistently have the best fans in the league,” said Coyle. “They are really supportive and so loud. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to give them more wins.”
Winning a fourth home game and clinching a playoff spot will go a long way to giving the fans in Denver what they want. To see if the Mammoth can deliver the critical win this weekend, you can catch the match on B/R Live April 12th at 9:00 pm EST.