As the New England Black Wolves (6-5) will tell you, there is no comfort right now in being atop the East Division standings, especially with a doubleheader weekend against two divisional opponents.
“If you look at the East, we’re in first place, but every team has six wins,” Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark said. “Everybody’s hungry. Everybody’s desperate.”
New England needs to be hungry as it will take on Buffalo and Georgia in back-to-back games. The Black Wolves welcome the Buffalo Bandits (6-7) at Mohegan Sun Arena for the second time this season on Friday, March 23. New England then gathers its things quickly as it visits Infinite Energy Arena for a rematch against the Georgia Swarm (6-7), wrapping up the team’s only doubleheader weekend of the season.
Faceoff for Saturday’s game is set for 7:05 p.m. ET. Fans can catch the game live via NLLTV.com.
The Black Wolves dropped its most recent game 14-9 to the Toronto Rock. New England maintained its lead for first place in the East Division, but the bottom of the standings became really close with the loss.
“I don’t think we played our best, and we made some uncharacteristic mistakes,” Clark said, “but sometimes that’s the game, and sometimes you got to give credit to the opponent. Moving into this weekend with Buffalo and Georgia, the East, obviously we always want to compete well and do well and hopefully get results against the East.”
While New England concentrates on the first game of the weekend, Georgia has to wait until Saturday for its rematch against the team that handed the Swarm its first loss of the 2017-18 season.
The Black Wolves won the season opener 13-11 and sent the Swarm packing on Dec. 8. Former Black Wolves forward Shawn Evans scored two goals and fed the rest of the pack with seven assists, while three Swarm players finished the night with five points.
Goaltender Aaron Bold earned his first win of the season with 33 saves on 44 shots, a .750 SV%. Opposing netminder Mike Poulin started the season with a loss after making 36 saves on 49 SOG, a .735 SV%.
Given how long it has been since then and the roster moves both teams have made in that time span, there is not as much either team can use from that first game.
“There’s a couple things from our previous matchup, how we shot and the play of a couple of their players that we’ll take away from that game, but it changes,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “New England has some different weapons, looks a little bit different.”
New England traded Evans to Buffalo for Callum Crawford. The Black Wolves also acquired Johnny Powless from Georgia in Feb. Crawford has produced seven points (2G, 5A) in two games, and Powless has six points (4G, 2A) in three games.
While New England is 2-1 since acquiring Powless, those two wins came via a one-goal difference, and its recent loss to the Rock showed a team still struggling to generate offense outside of Kevin Crowley (30G, 14A) and Stephan Leblanc (17G, 27A with NE).
If the Black Wolves do not breakout offensively on Friday, it might have a harder time against a Swarm defense that has benefited from mid-season additions Chad Tutton and Joel White. Combined with the other veteran defensemen and Poulin, the Swarm defense over the past five games has a 10.4 GA/GAME.
Georgia’s offense could be potentially pulling itself out of a funk after last weekend’s 14-10 win against Buffalo. Lyle Thompson scored five goals to lead the Swarm O in the win, and while still sitting last in the league in power play efficiency, Georgia’s man-up unit has been making strides and went 4-for-5 on Sunday night.
“We played much more like the way we wanted to,” Comeau said. “We had good dialogue last week offensively about some things we needed to do. It starts with your special teams. When you go 4-for-5 on your power plays, that’s a huge benefit to your team.
Even though Georgia is looking up in the standings at New England, the small gap between the two can disappear quickly if the Black Wolves drop both games this weekend.
So, while the East Division leader concentrates on the immediate task at hand in form of the Bandits on Friday, Georgia rests patiently, sharpening its stinger and watching for the outcome of Friday night’s contest.
“We’re not thinking by any stretch that this is an advantage to us,” Comeau said. “If anything, the advantage goes to the team that played the night before because they’re together and they played. All we did was practice our shootaround. The fact that they’re playing, the good part for us is we get a chance to watch them the night before and do some more scouting on them.”