May 15, 2013

Washburn's MLL Power Rankings: Bayhawks Team to Beat

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com

Kyle Dixon and the veteran-heavy Bayhawks have showed they are once again the team to beat in the 2013 MLL season.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Coaches and general managers will tell you they look at Week 4 of the season as the time where they really start to get an idea of what kind of team they have. This can be a positive if you're Chesapeake or Denver, or a glaring concern is you are Boston and Ohio. With an eight-team league and only four playoff spots, a slow start can end up being a hole you can't dig yourself out of.

Chesapeake Bayhawks (3-0)

The first two weeks of the season the Bayhawks found ways to win, despite not playing their best lacrosse. On Saturday night in Annapolis it all clicked. The offense was lethal against Ohio, in a game that was called after three quarters due to weather. The Bayhawks spread the ball around, with six different goal-scorers. Kyle Dixon was masterful, not as a shooter but as a distributor. Always known as a scoring threat, Dixon took only one shot but dished off three assists.

While many thought this veteran roster would start show some signs of age, it looks fresher than last season. When the offense plays at the level it did Saturday night, there is not a team in the league that can stop them.

Chesapeake now travels up to Boston for what is usually a top-tier matchup, but this season has a different feel with the Cannons starting 0-3.

Denver Outlaws (3-0)

After falling to Chesapeake in last year's championship game general manager Tony Seaman and head coach Jim Stagnitta did some roster reshaping. The goal was to be bigger and deeper, specifically at the midfield.

The plan has paid off.

The Outlaws have won their first three games and now have enough weapons to challenge Chesapeake. Brendan Mundorf has successfully worked his way back from offseason ankle surgery, while second year midfielder Drew Snider is on his way to an All-Star season. Snider has moved into a primarily offensive role, which has shown immediate dividends with 10 points through three games. Denver also added depth to the attack with the addition of Zack Greer. After a year away from the league, Greer is back and effective once again. He had four goals in last week's win.

The Outlaws have yet to beat a real contender, but have looked good beating up on inferior opponents.

Hamilton Nationals (2-0)

I nearly put the Nationals at number two on this list. Hamilton has started 2-0 without three of the top five offensive players. Joe Walters, Stephen Keogh and Cody Jamieson combined for 103 points in 2012 and have been unavailable so far this season due to their NLL commitments. No big deal for the Nationals, who play a team brand of offense that's centered around an emerging star in Kevin Crowley.

Crowley, a former No. 1 overall pick, has been fantastic, but has had help. Fiftteen players have registered a point for Hamilton in their two wins. Head coach Dave Huntley has a good problem when it comes to deciding what 19 players are going to dress each weekend, because he has 25 that are ready to contribute.

We will get a good idea of just how good this team is on June 1 when it visits the Chesapeake Bayhawks, a game that can be seen on CBS Sports Network.

New York Lizards (1-2)

Traveling to Hamilton is never easy, so a one-goal loss last Saturday is understandable. But a win over the Nationals would have done a lot for this Lizards team as it still works to find its identity.

I still think New York will be one of the final four teams playing in Championship Weekend, but the slow start will make for a stressful next few months. I keep hearing the dreaded words "well, when they get all their guys." If history is any indicator, counting on rookies and players coming off the indoor season is a dangerous proposition.

The good news is that Matt Gibson is picking up right where he left off in 2012, with five points in his first game and new addition Mark Matthews was effective with four goals.

The Lizards face the Ohio Machine and Charlotte Hounds in the next two weeks. They need to win both and grab some positive momentum heading into the heart of the season.

Rochester Rattlers (1-2)

After a 15-8 loss to the Charlotte Hounds in Week Two, head coach Tim Soudan forced every player to watch the game tape on their own time and email him back notes about their specific performance. The responses were detailed and critical. It allowed the coaching staff to implement new offensive guidelines and schemes.

The changes have proven to be very effective. Six days later the Rattlers faced the Hounds again and won 13-10. Ned Crotty looked like the Crotty of 2011, when he lead the MLL in points, scoring three goals and more importantly dishing out four assists in the win. While I don't love the overall depth of this team, they have enough proven stars to win every game they play.

Rochester heads to Denver on Saturday night to take on the 3-0 Outlaws on CBS Sports Network at 10 p.m. EST.

Charlotte Hounds (1-2)

The line between the Hounds and Rattlers is very thin, as we learned from their two meetings over the course of six days.

There is a lot to like about the Hounds. They have three All-Star caliber close defensemen in Ryan Flanagan, Brett Schmidt and Joe Cinosky. An offense with scorers like Matt Danowski, Peet Poillon, Eric Lusby and Ryan Young. Also throw in rookie Mike Sawyer, who will be in the lineup Friday, and you have a group with a lot of potential.

There are two things that need to happen for this team to consistently win games.

The faceoff unit must improve. Tim Fallon has only won 42 percent of his draws, as the organization awaits the arrival of Geoff Snider, whose NLL season ended on May 4. Poillon and Lusby need to be consistent contributors. In the Hounds win over Rochester on May 5, Poillon and Lusby combined for nine goals, two of which were from behind the 2-point arc. In Saturday's rematch the two were held pointless and took only six shots.

Charlotte heads to Hamilton for a Friday morning game against the Nationals, which will be as tough a challenge as they have faced all season.

Boston Cannons (0-3)

The Cannons lost again, but move up to No. 7 this week. They have had a brutal start the season, but have faced quality competition.

Things got worse last week for Boston when Jordan Burke was placed on the 2-game injured reserve with a thumb injury, sustained during the loss to the Nationals. Boston needs to shake things up and possibly test the trade market for either an established goalie or a dynamic transitional player. This team lacks the short-stick defensive midfielder that will grind you down on defense and then look to score or make the right play at the offensive end. The arrival of some of their rookies could prove beneficial, but again that is risky business.

This nightmare start will most likely continue for two more weeks. The Cannons face Chesapeake and Denver in their next two games.

Ohio Machine (0-2)

The Machine ran into a buzzsaw last Saturday night in Annapolis. The Bayhawks were just waiting to explode offensively and Ohio became the victim in a game that would have been much uglier than 14-5 had the weather not ended things after the three quarters.

The Machine have an experienced defense that looked lost against Chesapeake and an offense that did not play as a team for a single possession. There are more questions than answers going forward but confidence is the key component to a turnaround this season.

This group must to come together and get a marquee win over a quality opponent. They have that opportunity with New York visiting on Saturday.

Evan Washburn, the CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network commentator and host of CBS Sports Network's "Inside the MLL," provides weekly MLL power rankings throughout the season for LaxMagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanWashburn.


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