After a difficult defeat, a great team will differentiate itself from the rest of the pack by how it responds to that dropped game and makes corrections.
Following their loss to the New England Black Wolves in their Season Opener, the Saskatchewan Rush (3-1) have shown how to respond in style. They have won three straight games in convincing fashion, outscoring opponents by 13 goals across those three games and climbing to the top of the West Division.
The Georgia Swarm’s (4-2) trajectory went the other way after back-to-back losses last weekend, dropping from first place in the East Division to fourth place rapidly.
Finding themselves only a half game out of first place, the Swarm will try and get back on track against the Rush on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Infinite Energy Arena. Faceoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET.
It will be the only time the last two winners of the NLL Cup will meet during the 2018-19 regular season. And both Swarm head coach Ed Comeau and Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan regard their opponent highly and are expecting nothing but their best come Sunday afternoon.
“A lot; they’re (the Swarm) going to be pissed off,” Keenan said about what he expected from the Swarm after their losses in last weekend’s doubleheader. “They’re going to come at us, I’m sure. They’re a very, very good team. They were off to a 4-0 start and earned it. Sometimes, you have weekends like that on tough back-to-backs …
“They’re going to come at us. It’s going to be a difficult game for us.”
The Swarm showed signs of resiliency after a difficult Friday game against the Toronto Rock last week. The Rock won 14-9, and the Swarm had to immediately travel to Uncasville, Conn. to take on the New England Black Wolves.
That Saturday contest was a fierce tit-for-tat and a much better showing overall from the Swarm. The game ultimately resulted in the Black Wolves 13-12 win, capping the Swarm’s three-game road trip in which they went 1-2.
“We’re excited to be home,” Comeau said. “Certainly, the sense of urgency will be there for us coming off a two-loss weekend. We need to get back to where we’re playing in a level that we’re going to be able to compete and win against the elite teams in this league, and Saskatchewan is certainly one of them.”
The Swarm will count on the continued contributions from their top two scorers, Randy Staats and Lyle Thompson. Staats leads the team with 32 points (11G, 21A), followed closely by Lyle’s 31 points (18G, 13A). Lyle’s 18 goals are tied for the most in the league with Staats’ younger brother and the top pick in the 2018 NLL Entry Draft, Austin Staats.
Out the back door, the Swarm defense will look to cool the Rush’s offense that is averaging 13.25 GF/GAME and cashing in on 73.68% of all power play opportunities.
“There’s a lot of skill and talent there,” Keenan explained about his team’s continued success on the power play. “That’s where it starts. There’s really no substitute for that. They work well together. They’re all unselfish. They’re able to create pretty good shooting space for one another, so I think they all have to be respected. Then when we run set plays, they execute them well; they’re well-versed in it. We don’t do a whole lot of that, but they seem to just really have good cohesion when they’re there together on the power play.”
Goaltender Mike Poulin – currently sporting an 11.33 GAA and a .773 SV% – has faced the Rush five times with the Swarm, including two postseason games in 2017. Across those five games, Poulin has spent 270:41 min. in front of the net and posted an 11.58 GAA and a .774 SV%.
The Rush’s offense is led by Ben McIntosh (15G, 12A) and Mark Matthews (9G, 18A), both with 27 points. McIntosh is averaging a league-high 3.75 GF/GAME. Between the pipes, Evan Kirk has stood tall for the defending champs, leading the league with a 10.00 GAA and fourth overall with a .796 SV%.
“They’ve (Saskatchewan) been a top team in this league for the last four or five years, and we know that they are very well coached, they’re very disciplined,” Comeau said. “They’re a very good team. We know we’re going to have to play much better than what we did last week if we want to have a chance to have success against that team.”
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