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NLL Weekend Primer: Week 5. Happy New Year

Week four was a small one, just three games over the holiday weekend. Week five has a loaded slate, including a New Year’s Eve tilt in Saskatchewan. This week there are a few eye catching games, either because the matchup is good or because a statement needs to be made. Calgary is out to an 0-2 start and needs to get things moving in the right direction, can a home game against 1-2 Las Vegas help them do that? New York’s offense has not been great to start the year, and they travel to Toronto this week, can Jeff Teat spark the team for an upset? And of course, Albany returns to action to try to keep their red hot start going. Seven games on the calendar between Friday and Sunday, a weekend full of lacrosse for your viewing pleasure. Happy New Year, lacrosse fans.


Last week, I was 2-1 on game spreads and 0-3 on game totals (multiple losses by the hook, brutal).


For the season I am 12-7 against the spread and 8-11 on game totals.


PHILADELPHIA WINGS VS HALIFAX THUNDERBIRDS


When: Friday, Dec. 29. 6:30pm EST

Where: ScotiaBank Centre, Halifax

How to Watch: TSN+, ESPN+

The Spread: Halifax favored by 2.5 goals, game total set at 23.5


The Matchup:


The Wings recent form is dicey. They were off last weekend, a much needed bye to get organized and sort through their injuries on offense and some struggles on defense. After an opening weekend win against New York, they’ve dropped two straight against Toronto and Albany. No shame in losing to those teams right now, but the games weren’t all that close either. The Wings have spells during games where the defense lapses and teams get looks that are way too easy. Consistent defensive play is a must this week, because Halifax is looking scary. The only teams to surrender more goals than the Wings are Vegas, Saskatchewan, and Rochester. Mitch Jones leads the team in goals, assists and loose balls. He’s doing it all, and looks excellent in the effort. But Philly can’t win a faceoff right now, and the offense is finding it’s footing without Riorden and Cattoni. Not a good place to be against Jake Withers. 


As for Halifax, there’s a scene in comedy classic The Naked Gun when one of the police detectives gets into a shootout with the bad guys. He takes his pistol out of the holster, and puts a little sight on top of it. Then he adds another sight. Then a longer barrel. And so on, and so on, until he effectively has turned his little gun into a gigantic tank. That’s Halifax. A gigantic tank. And getting Randy Staats back was the last piece they added to complete their transformation into a giant tank. Per LaxMetrics, the only team averaging more points per game right now is Albany. The Thunderbirds have more goals in two games than some teams have in three (including Philadelphia). 12 different players have at least one goal, 15 have at least one point. It’s hard to look at Halifax as anything other than a serious title contender right now.


The Pick:


Philadelphia has gotten out to some good starts, and in moments, they can look sharp. Particularly on offense, when Jones can make magic out of seemingly nothing. The defense hasn’t been consistent, and if it stays that way, Halifax will feast. Ryan Terefenko did a spectacular job when matched up with Jeff Teat in New York, he’ll get another chance to shine for Halifax as he’ll spend some time guarding Jones in this one. 


The Thunderbirds are the pick -2.5, and I’ll take the over. 


GEORGIA SWARM VS BUFFALO BANDITS


When: Friday, Dec. 29. 7:30pm EST

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo

How to Watch: TSN+, ESPN+

The Spread: Buffalo favored by 1.5 goals, game total set at 23.5


The Matchup:


Georgia is coming off a lopsided win over Colorado, the second time they’ve beaten the brakes off the Mammoth this year. Buffalo comes in having been idle last week, but notched a quality win against San Diego on ring night two weeks ago. 


Georgia netminder Brett Dobson was lights out against Colorado, earning Player of the Week honors in the process. He held Colorado goalless in the 2nd quarter and gave up just two in the 4th, allowing the Swarm to build a comfortable lead. He made 42 saves on the night, outdueling the great Dillon Ward in the process. Seth Oakes and Lyle Thompson did plenty of scoring, as did Shayne Jackson. Every time I look at the Swarm roster I say to myself, this team should be a contender. If they’re a contender, this is the type of game they need to win. Notching a victory in Buffalo would be worth a mountain of street cred. 


Buffalo is still Buffalo, loaded with weapons, welcoming all comers as they defend their title. Josh Byrne is at 16 points in just two games, while Dhane Smith already has 12 assists. Both had seven points against San Diego. Buffalo runs deep enough that they can get unusually quiet nights from some outstandings players and still be fine. Chase Fraser scored just one goal against San Diego, and it came with two minutes left in the game, otherwise no points. No big deal, the rest of the team picks up the slack. Lacrosse, indoor or outdoor, has precious few environments where there is a real, genuine home field advantage. Noise, atmosphere, enthusiasm, Buffalo makes you feel it when you’re playing in their building. And the team feeds off it. A win in Banditland is mighty tough. 


The Pick:


Georgia has beaten Colorado twice, one time with Dillon Ward in net. The Mammoth haven’t looked great but aren’t pushovers. Buffalo still is a whole different level. Lapses in defensive play, like the Swarm had against the Warriors, will take this game to the same place as the game Georgia had against those Warriors: to a lopsided defeat. I think Georgia brings their A game, Dobson steals some goals back, but in the end, the Bandits are just too strong. Buffalo -1.5 and the under.


ROCHESTER KNIGHTHAWKS VS SAN DIEGO SEALS


When: Friday, Dec. 29. 10:00pm EST

Where: Pechanga Arena, San Diego

How to Watch: TSN+, ESPN+

The Spread: San Diego favored by 1.5 goals, game total set at 23.5


The Matchup:


San Diego was idle last week, and lost to Buffalo two weeks ago. Rochester comes in with a perfect 3-0 record, having come back to beat the Warriors last weekend. 


The Knighthawks are filling the nets up, scoring at least 13 goals in each of their first three games. They’ve hit the over twice, failing to hit it by the hook last weekend against Vancouver. Connor Fields is at the center of all they do, as he currently leads the NLL in points. There’s a very nice offense being built in Rochester around him now. Rookie Thomas McConvey joins him on the left and has looked great. The right side has Ryan Smith finding goals out of thin air, and the recently acquired Ryan Lanchbury is fitting right in. On top of that, Joe Post is leading the league in loose balls and facing off at 70%. For Rochester, it’s about shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot, and play some make it take it. Rochester will have to do it without netminder Ryan Hartley, who heads to IR after a scary moment against Vancouver. 


San Diego monkey wrenches that a bit with a guy named Trevor Baptiste. He’ll be by far the best competition Post has seen this year. Baptiste is the best in the business, very few either indoors or outdoors find a way to even get it close to 50/50 against him. That could mean less make it take it for the Knighthawks, and more run stopping plays from San Diego. It also means more chances for Wes Berg, Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie, and the rest of the potent San Diego offense. A player to watch is Chris Origlieri. The young netminder has sky-is-the-limit talent, but doesn’t have a ton of NLL experience yet. This Rochester team will put plenty of shots on him, and if he lets a few cheap ones squeak through, it could be the difference.


The Pick:


Rochester is flying clear across the country for this one, over 2,600 miles. That’s some serious travel. I think they pack the offense and it makes the trip with them, and they keep their scoring ways rolling. I’ll take the Knighthawks +1.5 in this one to keep it a battle, and the over at 23.5.


NEW YORK RIPTIDE VS TORONTO ROCK


When: Saturday, Dec. 30. 4:00pm EST

Where: First Ontario Centre, Toronto

How to Watch: ESPNU, TSN, TSN+, ESPN+

The Spread: Toronto favored by 3.5 goals, game total set at 22.5


The Matchup:


New York was idle a week ago, and currently sits at 0-2 and at or near the bottom of quite a few NLL power rankings. Toronto comes in off a win against Panther City, and is the current odds on title favorite on DraftKings. These two teams seem to be trending in opposite directions at the moment.


For New York, the offense needs to find some rhythm. There are plenty of new pieces in the Riptide locker room this year and some growing pains are to be expected, but things still have not looked good. Jeff Teat only managed two points against Halifax, well below his typical numbers. A trip to play in Toronto is a trip home for him, and stars have a way of playing their best in their hometowns. Even with Toronto’s excellent defense and goaltending, Teat should be on his game. The question is, where else is the scoring going to come from. Kiel Matisz now has five goals; he was a major offseason acquisition. The Riptide need Austin Madronic to start producing some points. A former sixth overall pick, New York acquired him for Steve Orleman and multiple draft picks, the kind of move you make if you know you’re getting a serious impact player. But in two games, Madronic hasn’t scored and has just one assist. Getting him going on the right side with Connor Kearnan and Matisz is critical. 


Toronto doesn’t have many weak spots, which as we say every week, is crazy because they are without Tom Schreiber and Latrell Harris. Mark Matthews is more than picking up the slack, looking every bit the weapon he always has been. He leads the team in points and goals, and is second in assists. His seven goals have come on 15 shots on goal. Chris Boushy has also delivered as expected with six points in two games. A difference maker here will be TD Ierlan, who is currently at 88% on the season. He’ll be a heavy favorite to keep the floor tilted against New York’s Jay Thorimbert. The extra possession advantage will keep pressure on the Riptide. On top of that, Nick Rose currently has the best GAA and save percentage in the league among full time starts, and the defense in front of him continues to be stingy while creating chances on their own. Mitch De Snoo is already at five assists, as is Challen Rogers. 


The Pick:


New York might show some signs of life on offense as they continue to develop with their new pieces. Jeff Teat will put on a grand show in his return to home. But in the end, Nick Rose and the Toronto defense will just be too much to overcome. I’ll take the massive spread and count on some Teat heroics, so give me New York +3.5, but Toronto is winning and the game is going under. 


LAS VEGAS DESERT DOGS VS CALGARY ROUGHNECKS


When: Saturday, Dec. 30. 9:00pm EST

Where: WestJet Field at ScotiaBank Saddledome

How to Watch: TSN+, ESPN+

The Spread: Calgary favored by 3.5 goals, game total set at 22.5


The Matchup:


Calgary takes the floor after some serious time off. When we last saw the Roughnecks, they fell to the Seals in San Diego way back on December 9. The Riggers are winless on the season, but the talent is undeniable. Hard to imagine they don’t right the ship at some point, and this feels like the opportunity. Some time off, a look in the mirror after an 0-2 start, and leadership like Zach Currier and Christian Del Bianco to get things on track. Jesse King has been a wizard as a distributor with 12 assists in two games. That’s tied for 4th in the league. The league leader, Ryan Keenan, has 14 and has played an extra game. Tanner Cook also has been outstanding, with eight helpers of his own. 


Vegas currently sits at 1-, the lone win being an OT miracle against Panther City. They were soundly crushed by Saskatchewan two weeks ago, surrendering 17 goals. That type of game this early in the year can skew some defensive stats, so tough to point to goalie and defensive numbers that are thoroughly blown up by a single lopsided loss. But Vegas still hasn’t put up 11 or more goals in a game. In fact, they have yet to hit the over in a game. Rob Hellyer and Casey Jackson have been solid, and rookie Sean Westley looks very promising and productive through three games. This team just doesn’t quite have the horses to hang with the top of the league yet. Developing rookies like Westley and Dylan Watson will help, along with still young stars like Jack Hannah and Charlie Bertrand, but the future is the plan for Vegas. 


The Pick:


This line is a bit perplexing. Calgary is absolutely talented, and the better team on paper, but the fact is they haven’t won a game yet, and they haven’t played since December 9th. This is their home opener, and Vegas is a team that doesn’t exactly appear to be playoff bound, but 3.5 goals is a lot. You can get Calgary -3.5 at +110, so if you think this is where the Roughnecks get things going, there’s some value. I do, and I’ll take the Roughnecks +3.5 and the over. 


VANCOUVER WARRIORS VS COLORADO MAMMOTH


When: Saturday, Dec. 30. 9:00pm EST

Where: Ball Arena, Colorado

How to Watch: TSN+, ESPN+

The Spread: Colorado favored by 1.5 goals, game total set at 22.5


The Matchup:


Last week Colorado was on the bad end of some excellent goalie play and lost big in Georgia. Vancouver had a lead over Rochester but couldn’t hold it, and lost the game late.


Colorado has not looked great to start the year. Injuries have played a role in that. They have played Georgia twice and lost big twice. Zed Williams was missing for game two and that’s significant, but really it was the goals against that jumps out. 16 goals the first time, 15 the second time, and the second game was with Dillon Ward in net. Through two games, just six players on the Mammoth have scored at last one goal. Connor Kelly, Eli McLaughlin, and Tyson Gibson are leading the scoring, but there’s just not enough scoring getting done. Vancouver’s defense had looked for the first two weeks but had some noticeable lapses a week ago against Rochester, possibly giving the Mammoth an opportunity to get things going. 


The Warriors sit at 1-2 and have yet to be favored in a game. Keegan Bal and Kevin Crowley lead the offense from the right side. The left side has been where the points are happening though. Adam Charalambides is playing the top lefty role, flanked by Ryan Martel, and they both have 14 points through three games, including thirteen goals between them. On the other end of the floor, Aaron Bold will need to be consistent. There were a couple goals he definitely wanted to have back against Rochester last week, and that was the difference in the game. As Colorado gets their offense going, it could be the difference again.


The Pick:


Zed Williams should be back for Colorado, and playing in the Loud House will do them good. If they can get to Bold early and take a lead, they should be confidence and notch their first win. I’ll take Colorado -1.5 and over 22.5.


ALBANY FIREWOLVES VS SASKATCHEWAN RUSH


When: Sunday, Dec. 31. 9:00pm EST

Where: SaskTel Centre, Saskatchewan

How to Watch: TSN+, ESPN+

The Spread: Saskatchewan favored by 1.5 goals, game total set at 23.5


The Matchup:


Last weekend both clubs were idle. Saskatchewan most recently ran all over Vegas, 17-5, getting their first win of the year in dominant fashion. Albany kept their hot start going and are still unbeaten, taking down Philly two weeks ago 15-10.


Albany’s play stems from their young offensive stars, led by Alex Simmons. The Firewolves have scored 44 goals in three games, and Simmons is already up past 20 points. Only three players in the league are at that threshold (granted that some clubs still have only played two games), with the other two being his teammate Ethan Walker and Rochester’s Connor Fields. Tye Kurtz, Sam Firth, and Travis Longboat aren’t far behind with 15 points each. It’s a tremendous story, and has all the elements to keep on rolling. Joe Nardella is looking very healthy at the faceoff spot and is currently second in the league in loose balls. The one place of concern is in net, where Doug Jamieson has been fairly middle of the road so far. 


That’s where Saskatchewan can do their damage. Because they can score. Zach Manns has had a hell of a first three games. He’s had at least three points in each, and has 17 points on the season. Ryan Keenan was off the charts against Vegas. Robert Church joins those two to form a trio that each had 17 points to this point. Patrick Dodds isn’t far behind. Saskatchewan likely will have some issues at the faceoff spot; they can’t match up well with Nardella. But they can score from all over the floor, including short handed where they already have seven goals this year. 


The Pick:


I really liked what I saw from Saskatchewan against Vegas. Yes, the Desert Dogs are not a top tier opponent, but the execution and flow of the offense for the Rush was what you’d want to see, particularly from their veterans. Still, it’s hard to pick against Albany. The Firewolves have yet to be an against the spread favorite this year, and I’ll keep taking them getting goals, even if the value isn’t great. Albany -1.5 and the over.


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