By Matt Cullen | NLL.com Staff Writer
The Georgia Swarm have the league’s best offense. The Toronto Rock boast the NLL’s best defense.
One will come out on top as the two teams battle for first in the East Division at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 17 to kick off Week 8.
The Swarm (5-1) come into the game with the NLL’s best record while the Rock (4-1) have surrendered a league-low 42 goals. Although Toronto has played one less game than Georgia, the Rock hold the league’s lowest mark by a whopping 26 goals over the second-place Calgary Roughnecks (68 goals against).
Toronto currently trails Georgia for top spot in the East Division by a half game.
One of the biggest reasons for Toronto’s stingy defense has been the play of goaltender Nick Rose, who leads the league in goals-against-average (8.40) and save percentage (.809).
“Rose is consistent game in and game out,” head coach Matt Sawyer told NLL.com. “He’s playing as well as anybody in the league right now…We make our fair share of mistakes and it is nice to have Rose behind us when we break down. He can make us look really good at times.”
Rose, who turned 29 on Feb. 11, is coming off a 40-save performance while anchoring the Rock to a 11-7 road victory over the Roughnecks last Sunday. He was particularly sharp early in the game, limiting Calgary to just two first-half goals and four heading to the fourth quarter.
After five games, Rose’s GAA is 2.73 better than the second-place goaltender, Colorado’s Dillon Ward.
‘LOTS OF FIRE POWER’
But Rose, a third-round pick in 2008, will be tasked with shutting down a potent Georgia squad, which enters Friday with a league-best 91 goals scored (averaging over 15 per game). The Swarm are coming off a 17-15 comeback victory over the New England Black Wolves on Saturday.
Lyle Thompson had a team-high 10 points (4G, 6A) and was instrumental in Georgia’s four-goal run to close out the game. Thompson is currently tied for second in NLL goals (18), only trailing Calgary’s Curtis Dickson (22).
“Lots of fire power,” Sawyer said about the Swarm’s offense. “They are on a really good roll. It’s really important that we stay disciplined. Their power-play has been deadly.”
Special teams could certainly be a factor as the Swarm have scored on 20-of-34 attempts with the man-advantage this season (third in the NLL at 58.8 per cent) while the Rock are last at 33 per cent (9-for-27).
SCHREIBER CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
Despite its power-play woes, Toronto’s offense has also turned heads this season, including a 17-goal performance against the Buffalo Bandits on Feb. 3. The play of rookie American forward Tom Schreiber has also stood out as he currently leads the team with 29 points (9G, 20A).
Including the pre-season, the East Meadow, N.Y., native has played just eight total box lacrosse games.
“I’m just trying to improve every time I’m out there,” Schreiber told NLL.com. “Just take it slow and try not to get too frustrated with anything. The process has been fun so far. I’m just trying to get better every time I’m out there.”
Friday’s contest will be the first of two meetings this season. The two teams will also clash in Georgia on March 24.
The Rock have a special treat for the first 5,000 fans through the gates as they will receive a Nick Rose limited edition collectible bobblehead.
The National Lacrosse League is also celebrating its extended partnership with Right To Play from Feb. 17-19. Across the league, players, coaches and staff will be auctioning off jerseys and hosting fundraising activities to benefit the youth empowerment organization. Representatives from Right To Play will also participate in a ceremonial ball drop before Friday’s Rock-Swarm game in Toronto. The Rock have also donated 30 tickets to host Right To Play youth participants at the game.