NLL mid-season report: West division

The East consists of one really good team, a couple of good ones and one struggling, but the west is much more even. Last year we had two great teams, two good teams, and the Stealth. This year it’s more like five pretty good teams. Nobody is head and shoulders above the rest, and nobody is terrible – not even the last place Mammoth. Blah blah parity blah blah…

 

Roughnecks Calgary Roughnecks

Offense: A+

First in goals scored per game by more than a full goal. There are two Roughnecks in the top ten in scoring including #1 and five in the top twenty-one. Averaging 1.2 shorthanded goals per game. Have only scored less than 11 goals once, and they won that game. Scored 16+ four times in ten games. Best offense in the league – only the Toronto Rock is close.

Defense: C

7th in goals allowed per game, so they’re winning lots of high-scoring games. Only given up less than 10 twice, but have given up 16+ in each of the last four games and 15 in one other (though they won two of those). Poulin hasn’t looked like Poulin – in Calgary’s last three losses, he’s allowed 16 goals on 48 shots, 13 on 46, and 14 on 37. He’s 7th among starters in GAA and 9th in Save %.

Overall: A

Still my pick to win the West, though I’m reconsidering. After coming up with grades for the Rush, I had to think about which of the two I would rank higher. I eventually settled on giving each of them an A.

 

Mammoth Colorado Mammoth

Offense: D

Tied with the Knighthawks for 7th in goals per game. Grant is tied for 7th in points, then Prout at 16th. In terms of points per game, Grant is 3rd, Prout 13th, and Jones 17th. Of their top 10 scorers in 2012, 6 of them are down in points/game this year, two (MacLeod, McBride, Coates) are slightly up, and one (Hopcroft) is gone.

You couldn’t expect Junior’s production to stay at the 8.3 points per game he had last year (he’s down to 5.8), but as he’s dropped, so has just about everyone else. Derek Hopcroft was traded for a 5th round pick and is on the Bandits’ practice roster and playing in CLax. Jamie Shewchuk is sitting at home. First round draft pick Colton Clark has played in one game. They’ve been so focused on their goaltending situation that they have done nothing to shake up their offense. They’re just not clicking this year. This was the top scoring team in the league last season.

Defense: D-

Dead last in goals allowed per game with 13.8. They’re way worse at home (14.2) than on the road (13). They released Chris Levis after a terrible start and gave Matt Roik the keys. Then they released him and are trying Minnesota’s rookie-twin-terror strategy – Lewis and Belanger had a combined 30 minutes of NLL experience before this season. It worked for the Swarm last year, though not so much this year. Can it save the Mammoth’s season? Seems like a long shot.

Overall: D-

At the halfway point, there are no two ways about it: the Mammoth are the worst team in the league. But they’re not that different personnel-wise from the contending team they were last year. A little confidence and they could start winning but they need the wins to get the confidence.

 

Rush Edmonton Rush

Offense: A

Wow, this Mark Matthews kid just came out of nowhere! Who saw this coming? Oh wait, everybody did. Matthews leads the league in goals scored and is tied for 7th in points. The team is 2nd in goals per game and has three players in the top 13 scorers. When have you been able to say that about the Rush before? Matthews is the offensive star the Rush have never had, and he’s turned a decent offense into a great one. The Rush have scored 18 twice, 15 twice (though they lost one) and 14 twice.

Defense: A

2rd in goals allowed per game. The Rush are giving up less than 10 goals per game in away games. They’ve given up 10 or fewer goals in six games out of ten. Aaron Bold is 4th among starters in GAA, though only 8th in save %.

Overall: A

Last year, the Rush were decent offense and great defense. This year the defense is just as good but the offense is so much better.

 

Swarm Minnesota Swarm

Offense: B-

5th in goals per game. They’ve scored less than 10 goals in a game only three times. Ryan Benesch is 6th in points per game, Callum Crawford is 8th (but has missed 2 games), Shayne Jackson is 28th and Kiel Matisz is 30th. The next player is Jordan MacIntosh way down at 50th so it seems that the Big Four do pretty much all the scoring.

Defense: D

The Swarm are 6th in goals allowed per game; only Colorado and Calgary are higher. Strangely, the Swarm have given up an average of 2 more goals per game at home than on the road. The experiment with two young goalies that worked so well last year isn’t going so well this year. Both Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson have GAA over 14, ranking them 9th (Carlson) and 10th (Kirk) among starters, and they are 6th (Carlson) and 7th (Kirk) in save percentage.

Overall: C+

I expected a lot from the Swarm this year – I picked them to finish second in the west. Right now they’re fourth and with captain Andrew Suitor out for the year, I have to wonder if the Swarm are already done. I was on a roundtable last week with the guys from LaxDirt.com and most of the panel believed that the loss of Suitor will be too much for this young team to handle and that they’ll be the team that finishes out of the playoffs. I’m not sure I’m ready to write the team off quite yet, but with all he does for the team, Suitor will be a tough guy to replace.

 

Stealth Washington Stealth

Offense: B

Right in the middle, at 4th in goals per game. I was about to say that “Rhys Duch is having a great year” but when I look over his points per game averages over his career, I found this:

    Season Points Points per game
    2009 89 5.56
    2010 86 5.38
    2011 90 5.63
    2012 (14 games) 79 5.64
    2013 (10 games) 57 5.70

Look at the points per game – talk about Mr. Consistency. Duch missed two games in 2012 and his total extrapolates to 90 points over 16 games, and this year he’s on a pace for 91. So yes, Duch is having a great year but not significantly better than his previous great years.

Duch is fourth in the league in points per game, while Iannucci and Ratcliff are 21st and 24th respectively. Cliff Smith is having a career year – he has 32 points in 10 games so far. He started the season with 44 career points in 33 games over four seasons.

Defense: B-

Also right in the middle, 4th in goals allowed per game. In their four losses, they’ve allowed 18, 15, 15, and 7 goals. OK, we’ll give the defense a pass on that last one. Tyler Richards is having a much better season than last year, with a GAA lower by more than two. Last year, Richards’ GAA was twelfth among starters last year. Twelfth is not great in a 9-team league. This year, he’s second. Nick Patterson had a 16.81 GAA but was released last week, replaced with former Mammoth Matt Roik.

Overall: A-

The goal for the Stealth in 2013 was (a) forget 2012 and (b) win Championship. Perhaps they thought about it in the other order but I think (a) had to be done before (b) was possible. At 5-4 and second in the West, they haven’t clinched a playoff berth yet but I think they’ve been successful in getting (a) accomplished. But (b) will be a bigger challenge.

Similar to the Bandits, their overall grade is higher than their offensive or defensive grades. Can’t argue with first in the West, though given how the Rush have been playing and how the Roughnecks should be playing, I’m not sure I’d count on the Stealth still being in first at the end of the season.

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