February 8, 2014

NLL Weekend Preview: Wings' Double Dip

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Brodie Merrill and the Philadelphia Wings play Friday night in Toronto and hosts Edmonton on Saturday. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

The National Lacrosse League season continues with five games on tap this weekend.

All four of Saturday night's games (and the highlights from Friday's Rock-Wings game) area available via YouTube.com/TLN and embedded below, adjacent to the game previews for your enjoyment. 

Friday

Editor's Note: Toronto doubled up the Wings in Friday's game, 20-10. Read the game story and watch the video here.

PHILADELPHIA (3-3) at TORONTO (2-3), 7:30 p.m.

The Wings took two of three from Toronto last season. This will be the first of three 2014 meetings.

Philadelphia is coming off a 15-9 home win over Vancouver. Jordan Hall, with 16 goals, and Kyle Buchanan, with 14, have been lighting it up for the Wings, who are averaging a league-best 12.83 goals a game.

Toronto split last weekend, winning 17-12 at home over Vancouver before losing 12-10 in Buffalo.

''I really liked our compete level in the Buffalo game,'' said head coach John Lovell.

Captain Colin Doyle echoed Lovell in saying the split was not discouraging given how close the Rock came to winning in Buffalo. Now that teams are at or near the one-third mark in their schedules, one thing about the NLL in 2014 is clear.

''You certainly notice the speed of the game,'' Doyle said during the NLL's weekly conference call Wednesday. ''The quality of lacrosse will improve even more as we get into the nitty gritty.''

Stephan Leblanc is the only double-digit Rock scorer with 13 goals.

Wings goalie Evan Kirk has the league's fourth-best goals-against average, 10.85, while Toronto's Nick Rose is seventh on that list with an 11.40 average.

The Wings' defense needs to have fewer lapses and play more consistently, says defender Chad Wiedmaier.

''We want to get better and we know we can get better,'' said Wiedmaier.

Toronto acquired defenseman Billy Hostrawser from Vancouver for third- and fourth-round draft picks and released vet Stephen Hoar on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Rock defensemen Pat Merrill and Chris White and Wings forward Kevin Ross remained on injured reserve.

Saturday

EDMONTON (5-0) at PHILADELPHIA, 7:30 p.m.

This will be the first meeting since 2012.

''They've played well. We think we're going to be in for a real tough battle Saturday night,'' said Rush GM-coach Derek Keenan.

Edmonton is coming off a 8-7 OT home win over Rochester.

''It was a tough game,'' said Keenan. ''They're a hard team to play against.''

''With the beating their D gives you, you don't have a lot to work with,'' said Rush forward Mark Matthews. ''I was pretty exhausted. We were lucky to come away with the win in overtime.''

Top Rush goal scorers are Matthews and Curtis Knight with 12 goals each. The team is averaging 12.4 goals a game, which is third-best in the league only slightly back of the Wings.

Edmonton's Aaron Bold has a league-best GAA of 8.19, and Edmonton is the only undefeated NLL team.

''We just want to try getting better,'' said Keenan. ''We see some things each week we can get better at.''

''It's going to be a pretty daunting task,'' Wings coach Blane Harrison said of the matchup.

Philadelphia will have played in Toronto the previous night.

Rush forward Zack Greer went down with a neck injury last game and is ''day to day'' according to Keenan.

The Wings will retire Jake Bergey's 66 in a pre-game ceremony.

BUFFALO (5-1) at ROCHESTER (3-2), 7:30 p.m.

Buffalo is coming off a fifth straight win, 12-10 at home over Toronto.

''The key for us is to have all portions of our game working for us and not just trying to win one way or another,'' said defenseman Glen Bryan.

Rochester lost 8-7 in OT in Edmonton last Saturday.

''We haven't put a full game together and it was evident in that game,'' said Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen.

''We know they're going to be hungry,'' said assistant Buffalo coach Dan Teat.

In one earlier meeting this season, Buffalo edged Rochester 11-10 at home Jan. 25. These teams will meet a third time on April 19.

''6-1 sounds a lot better than 5-2 and that's how we're going to approach this,'' said Bryan.

Mark Steenhuis and John Tavares have each scored 12 goals for the surging Bandits, and Anthony Cosmo (10.98) is fifth among goalies in GAA.

Cody Jamieson, with 11 goals, is the only double-digit scorer for the Knighthawks. Matt Vinc (8.59) has the second-best GAA, second only to Edmonton's Aaron Bold.

Bandits transition runner Andrew Watt went down with a separate shoulder last weekend. Knighthawks forward Craig Point remains on injured reserve.

CALGARY (2-3) at MINNESOTA (1-4), 8 p.m.

Calgary had a bye last weekend. The break helped the Roughnecks refocus, says head coach Curt Malawsky.

''The guys are chomping at the bit to back at it,'' said Malawsky.

Dane Dobbie has scored 16 goals and Jeff Shattler has 12 for the Roughnecks. Mike Poulin's 13.44 GAA leaves him 10th among 11 goalies who have played at least 60 minutes.

''Everyone's ready to go,'' said Calgary rookie Karsen Leung.

The offense hasn't purred as it did last year. Players have to move the ball around more effectively.

''For whatever reason, guys have been selfish,'' Malawsky said.

Taking fewer penalties would help, too.

''The leadership group has promised to take care of that,'' said Malawsky.

Minnesota lost 14-12 at Colorado last Saturday.

''We played better than we played our previous game,'' said assistant coach Aimee Caines. ''We're looking forward to being at home the next two games.''

Callum Crawford leads the Swarm with nine goals. Rookie Logan Schuss has seven. Goalies Tyler Carlson (10.68 GAA) and Zach Higgins (11.31 GAA) have shared the goaltending. Offense has definitely been lacking.

''We needs guys to step up and put the ball in the net for us,'' said Caines.

Tyler Hass, one of Minnesota's chief transition threats, is out another two weeks on injured reserve.

COLORADO (3-5) at VANCOUVER (2-5), 10 p.m.


Colorado is coming off a 14-12 home win over Minnesota.

''Fortunately for us we got some timely goals and some timely saves in the fourth quarter,'' said coach Bob Hamley.

The 2014 debut of veteran forward Casey Powell was sensational as the American star had a nine-point night.

Adam Jones leads the NLL with 25 goals but the Mammoth lost their sharpshooting leftie to a separated shoulder during the win over the Swarm. Recently-signed Dean Hill could get the lineup spot. John Grant Jr., who has scored 17, now is the main weapon on the left side.

Vancouver is reeling after losses of 17-12 in Toronto and 15-9 in Philadelphia.

''We're struggling right now,'' said head coach Chris Hall. ''It was a tough road trip. It always is when you go to the east. We've got to get back on track and we'll head that way when we practise Friday.''

''We've dug ourselves a hole . . . but we can win some games and dig ourselves out,'' said rookie Nick Weiss.

Rhys Duch has scored 18 and Cliff Smith and rookie Tyler Digby have each scored 11 for the Stealth. Dhillon Ward has supplied good goaltending the last two weeks for the Mammoth and the Stealth will be looking for Tyler Richards, who was pulled in both losses last weekend, to revert to his stellar form he displayed in the season's opening month.")


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