Four games into the 2014 NLL season, the Rochester Knighthawks are sitting in second place in the East Division with a 3-1 record.
It is still early in the 18-game schedule and lots can happen between now and the playoffs, but does it look like the Knighthawks can win an unprecedented third Champion’s Cup in a row?
The early indicators are good. In spite of suffering their first loss of the season this past weekend, Rochester is well ahead of last year’s title defense, where they dropped their first three games in a row. During that run, they gave up 38 goals while scoring just 32.
In the first four games of 2014, the K’Hawks have only given up 34 goals—fewer than they gave up in three 2013 games—while scoring 43 times.
While their relatively low goals for total may be a cause for concern—they’re only a fraction ahead of their early season pace in 2013, if they can continue to limit their opposition to 10 or fewer goals per game, they’ll have a shot at winning every game they’re in.
Matt Vinc found himself getting pulled for the first time in a long time in Saturday’s loss to the Buffalo Bandits, but that is not indicative of a typical performance for the two-time Goaltender of the Year. Even with a sub-par performance against Buffalo, his minuscule 8.80 goals against average is second-best in the NLL and his .809 save percentage is still tops among regular goaltenders.
Cody Jamieson is once again leading the scoring parade for Rochester, with 22 points. That’s good for 14th best in the NLL right now, but everyone ahead of him in the league’s scoring race has games in hand on him. At his current pace, Jamieson should break the 100-point and 40-goal barriers which would both be career highs for him.
Dan Dawson is only three points behind Jamieson and is right on the same pace he set last year. He is well on his way for his 12th straight season of 20 or more goals and should eclipse the 1,000 point plateau some time in the next few weeks.
Team defense hasn’t just been Vinc. Their stifling defense has given up the third fewest shots per game (45.25) and smart, disciplined play has translated into the fewest penalty kill situations per game in the league (3.25). While the counting stats the individuals on the team are posting aren’t liable to set any records, everyone is contributing and making opposing teams earn their shots.
With the new playoff format now in place and single-game eliminations no longer a concern for teams, Rochester need not worry about one bad playoff game costing them their run. Instead, they can rely on their consistency and experience to get them through any tough spots they might run into and that gives them a huge advantage over the competition.
Put all the pieces together and it wouldn’t be a bit surprising to see this Knighthawks squad hoisting the Champion’s Cup in May.