The first week of NLL action had surprises across the league. The two that shocked the most may have been the New England Black Wolves winning their opener over the Buffalo Bandits and almost 400 miles to the east, the three time defending champion Rochester Knighthawks lost their opener to the Toronto Rock. In week two, these teams will see each other in another home game for New England.
Regarding New England, I was most impressed with their set defense. Evan Kirk was outstanding, recording the top save percentage in the league with 86% (nobody finished last season over 80% for reference). Despite only playing in 6 games last year, Brian Megill turned in an excellent performance. He worked through the picks well and collapsed when needed. Rookie Bill O’Brien also had a solid first game and he played into the clearing game quite a bit. The anchor of the defense is Joel White, who is also the team captain. He factored into the face-off game prominently as he looks to replace Brodie Merrill as the team’s loose ball vacuum (he led the team in that category for the evening). The set defense did give up a few goals where Buffalo cleared out and allowed a forward to go 1v1. New England absolutely cannot do this again. The spot where this happened on the floor will be occupied mostly by Dan Dawson of Rochester who will see that opening and take advantage every time.
Overall, Rochester is bringing much more accurate shooters than Buffalo, so the defense will have to cut down on the number of shots going at Kirk. Rochester has all the tools in place to give this defense trouble all night long. They went cold at the end against Toronto, which is what decided the game, but that likely will not happen for a second straight week. Rochester’s veteran-heavy offense will find gaps in the younger New England defense and they have the shooters to capitalize when they do.
Where New England struggled the most was in transition. This is not an area that Rochester has a lot of emphasis, but given New England’s propensity for shooting and shooting often, look for Matt Vinc to send Brad Self down the field often on a break. Rochester does like to get a forward on as early as possible to help push the tempo a bit too. It won’t be a huge part of the game, but Rochester will pick up a few goals here. New England wants to use the transition game as often as possible, so look for them to push the break at every opportunity. This will be the biggest key for them. If they can convert regularly, this will be a close game.
In settled situations, New England’s forwards relied heavily on their righties and mostly tried to setup for outside shots while most of their inside goals were due to loose ball opportunities. They will need to establish a better inside game against Rochester if they want success against Vinc. Toronto did pretty well with their outside shots, but Rochester’s not a team that you want to setup a game plan like this for on a regular basis. If New England are able to get Brett Bucktooth into the game this week, that gives them a very big lineup on that side with Quinn Powless and Kevin Crowley which should help open things up a bit since Rochester is not a small defense. Kyle Buchanan was extremely productive for New England on that side and should once again provide a nice change of pace there.
This should wind up being an exciting, physical game. New England will get their chances throughout, but I think Rochester is playing a little angry from last week’s performance. Rochester should walk away the winner, but the Black Wolves have already proven themselves as an underdog once. No matter what, this is definitely a game to watch.