The Colorado Mammoth (4-6) will host West Division Rival San Diego Seals (3-5) on Saturday at 9:30pm ET for the final NLL game on Saturday of week 12. This matchup is a rematch of the game between these two foes from Las Vegas during week 10 which San Diego won 17-10. This is the second of two matchups on the season between these two teams. The current standings have both the Seals and Mammoth at the bottom of the West Division, but each sits only two games behind division leader Saskatchewan and only half a game behind both second and third place in Vancouver and Calgary in the tightest division race in the NLL.
Colorado is the only team in the NLL to play 10 games so far this season but only has two road games remaining. They will enjoy and need to take advantage of some home cooking with six of eight games at the Loud House to end the season including three versus division opponents. The road heavy early schedule has been a grind, but Colorado will have four straight at home, which also includes a bye week thrown in to get some long needed rest.
Since starting the season 3-1, the Mammoth has gone 1-5 in their last six games including losses to division rivals in Vancouver, San Diego and most recently Saskatchewan in a tough 9-7 loss last weekend. On the season, Colorado is 3-4 against West Division opponents, but has lost the tiebreaker to Saskatchewan. The Mammoth can still capture the season series against the other teams but will need to start with a win this weekend versus San Diego. Even though the season series would be tied versus San Diego, Colorado could take the tiebreaker with a better win percentage versus division opponents. As it sits, San Diego is 2-2 versus West Division opponents with a larger schedule remaining against division rivals.
San Diego has been a thorn in the Mammoth’s side since entering the league last season, having won every matchup versus Colorado (three last season and once this season) by a combined score of 59-39 and chasing star goalie Dillon Ward out of every game. For the Mammoth to compete in this game, the defense will need to provide a solid foundation to give their goalie a chance. Seal’s players, Austin Staats, Kyle Buchanan and Brodie Merrill have been the biggest thorns for the Mammoth. Staat’s, in his three matchups versus Colorado has combined for seven goals and eight assists (including his first ever NLL game last season and his first game back from an ACL injury this season). Merrill from the defensive end has two goals and four assists in transition but has played extremely physical defense against what some would consider a smaller Colorado offensive lineup out of the front door. In Colorado’s best showing versus San Diego, last season on March 9, Colorado limited Staats, to two points (1g, 1a) and Merrill to zero but the Mammoth was unable to contain Kyle Buchanan and then Seal, Garrett Billings. Goaltender Frank Scigliano, who was just activated for this weekend’s game, also had a great game, saving 44 of 54 shots. Colorado limited themselves to only three penalties but couldn’t stop San Diego’s power play and couldn’t take advantage of any of their four man-up opportunities.
For Colorado to get its first win versus San Diego a few things have to go their way. First off, they must limit the number of penalties they take. In their last matchup, Colorado uncharacteristically had 26 penalty minutes but allowed San Diego to capitalize three times. San Diego is middle of the pack when it comes to converting their man-up opportunities, but Wes Berg is deadly in these opportunities, leading the league with nine power play goals. Connor Fields is no slouch, tied for third in the NLL at five. Even if San Diego doesn’t score on their power play opportunities, it still limits the Mammoth’s offense from getting into a rhythm and drains their defenses energy while putting their goalie in a tough position.
Another key is to run complete offensive sets and get the best looks on goal. Colorado has been very careless with the ball, having committed 227 turnovers through 10 games. By comparison, San Diego only has 118 through eight. Ryan Lee and Eli McLaughlin are leading the league in turnovers committed, a stat they surely do not want to be leading in. By running complete offensive sets, it will tire out the Seals defense, get their goalie moving in his crease, and get the best looks on net for what has been an inconsistent offense for Colorado. After his hot start, forward Jacob Ruest has only nine points (4g, 5a) in his last five games. The only consistent scorers for the Mammoth have been Ryan Lee and Eli McLaughlin with support from Joey Cupido in transition. Chris Wardle has been productive in his role, only five goals and five points away from tying his single season career highs.
The final key is limiting the stars on the Seals offense. As mentioned, Staats and Buchanan have been Mammoth killers in previous games. Wes Berg is familiar with this Colorado team with his time in Calgary and currently leads the Seals in points. Too many times in the game two weeks ago in Las Vegas did San Diego have open looks at the net or found offensive players that weren’t marked by defenders. If the defense can keep San Diego from getting good shot opportunities, Dillon Ward should be able to easy saves and get into a rhythm much like the Mammoth’s last game versus Saskatchewan where Ward made some unbelievable saves and kept Colorado in the game until the final buzzer.
Several milestones could be reached in this game.
- Dillon Ward is 52 saves away from 4,000 on his career. He is also one win away from 50 in his career. The former NLL Goaltender of the Year is arguably having the best season of his career and is currently on pace to surpass the single season saves record set by Anthony Cosmo in 2014 (752)
- Ryan Lee is one goal away from 50 in his third season in the NLL
- Chris Wardle is three assists away from 100 in his career
- Robert Hope is three loose balls away from 700 in his career which places him 3rd in Mammoth history. It will also be his 100th career game played
- With his next assist, Eli McLaughlin will surpass Jeremy Noble for 6th in Franchise history. This will be Jeremy Noble’s first game back in Denver after being traded to San Diego in the offseason.
- Joey Cupido will be playing in his 132nd career game, tying him with Brian Langtry for second in Franchise history
- Brodie Merrill is two penalty minutes away from 500 in his career.
San Diego has had Colorado’s number in their previous matchups. Both teams will be hungry to get out of the basement of the West Division, especially with Saskatchewan and Vancouver having tough road games this weekend, potentially making either the Seals or Mammoth solid playoff contenders. This game, along with every NLL game through the season, can be watched via Bleacher Report Live.