Week 15 in the NLL commences with a massive matchup between two of the top teams in the league.
Friday, March 22 marks the third and final time this regular season that the Georgia Swarm (10-4) and Toronto Rock (8-3) will face each other. Both teams handed each other their first losses of the 2018-19 season, the Swarm besting the Rock 12-11 on Dec. 28 and the Rock exacting a 14-9 vengeance on Jan. 18.
“We got off to a slow start in that game, as I recall,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “Our offense was struggling a little bit then, and we didn’t get into a good rhythm on offense. They (the Rock) played with a whole lot of jump that night when we played them. They were definitely the better team … That night, we didn’t come ready to play off the bat.”
That game might as well have transpired eons ago as the Swarm and Rock are vastly different compared to how they were in the middle of January.
The Swarm became the second team to reach double digits in wins escaping Blue Cross Arena with a 15-14 win against the renovated Rochester Knighthawks. Their five-goal lead in the first half evaporated quickly in the final 30 minutes, and Shayne Jackson hiked the team onto his shoulders to sweep the home team, scoring the last three Swarm goals of the night.
“The second half, we didn’t bring the intensity and energy we needed to, and we allowed them to get in the game,” Comeau said. “Five-goal leads in lacrosse doesn’t guarantee you a win, but when you’re up by five and you stop playing with the energy and intensity that you started with, then that really gives the other team the opportunity to get back in it, and we did that.”
While the defense did not have its best game of the season, the Swarm’s offense and transition were on full display, the team’s collective 22.39 S% and 74.63 SOG% evidence of their smart and accurate shot selection.
“We did lots of good things, but I think the message to our guys is we’ve got to play 60 minutes like we did the week before in Buffalo. We put together 60 minutes. This game we didn’t do that, and we were lucky to come out of there with a win,” Comeau said.
Also having faced the Knighthawks last weekend, the Rock were able to satiate the home crowd with a 14-12 victory, snapping their two-game skid. In their fifth-straight home win, 11 different Rock players scored – including rookie Scott Dominey – and the strong transition game might foreshadow what will transpire on Friday between two of the top teams in the NLL.
“I think the biggest factor will come down to the transition game in this game,” Comeau said. “They love to run; we love to run. It’s hard to score five-on-five in this league. When you get those opportunities, and both teams have some pretty gifted defensive players that can score, so really focusing on that and making sure that we do a good job of shutting down their transition while still trying to create some for ourselves is going to be real key.”
Both Georgia and Toronto’s defenses will try to get back in form and prevent those transition chances. The Swarm’s Mike Poulin has an 11.20 GAA and .786 SV% over 755:05 min., and the Rock’s Nick Rose has himself an 11.76 GAA and .764 SV% throughout his 663:17 min. this season.
Three of the top 10 NLL scorers will clash Friday night. 2017 NLL MVP Lyle Thompson and his 79 points (35G, 44A – tied for third in the league) are complemented by 2016 NLL ROY Randy Staats and his 75 points (28G, 47A – good for sixth in the league). For the Rock, 2017 NLL ROY Tom Schreiber leads Toronto with his 63 points (20G, 43A – tied for seventh in the NLL).
The Swarm punched their ticket to their fourth-straight postseason, but the Rock are still looking to become the third NLL team to clinch their playoff spot this season. Given that the Rock are 9-for-11 (including two postseason contests) against the Swarm since 2016 and five of those games were decided by one goal, they will have to replicate their success from Jan. 18 to take the season series from the Swarm.
Faceoff is set for 7:35 p.m. ET. Fans can catch the game on the B/R Live app available through iTunes, Google Play, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire.