NLL teams can find themselves in a
much different spot in the standings from one week to the next. That was proven this past weekend, which saw Toronto and Calgary go 2-0, while Philly went 0-2, in back-to-back or quick-turnaround games. But how much does that speak about each team, or the league overall?
The high skill of the NLL is forcing teams to be on their best game more than ever before and is also requiring coaching staffs to make quicker decisions when things might not be going so great in the cage. It also requires more athleticism and mental toughness, but how much can that help you if you’re in a precarious position in the standings? ILIndoor staffers Bob Chavez, Marty O’Neill, Teddy Jenner and Casey Vock dissect these issues here.
VOCK: It’s pretty amazing that a team sitting at 2-0 or 0-2 can find itself with a 2-2 record in a matter of a just a couple nights. In a league that feels more competitive than ever before, maybe there’s no need to panic if you have an 0-2 weekend like Philly and maybe no reason to get a big head if you go 2-0 like Calgary or Toronto. After all, as Chavez pointed out to me, there’s already been nine one-goal games in the 16 total contests played so far in the NLL this season. It was mid-March in 2012 before we saw the ninth one-goal contest. So, do you guys think a weekend like that tells us more about those particular teams, or does it speak more about the NLL and its hyper-competitive nature as a whole?
CHAVEZ: I think what we’re seeing is a direct result of a 9-team league and, more indirectly, the growth of the game. The NLL has 9 teams, which is just more than 200 jobs for players. And we basically have 2 countries providing the manpower for those 200 jobs. You better be good, or you’re going home. I think that’s translating into a very, very balanced league and we’re seeing that today.
JENNER: TRUTH!! It’s super crazy, the tightness of the league this year. While we may see a team like Toronto pull away a bit, one bad weekend and they’re back with the pack. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to pick who will win as evidenced by my horrendous pick’em record. I think an 0-2 weekend is more a result of a team just coming out on the wrong end one night and then running out of gas the next. But to go 2-0, especially on the road like Toronto and Calgary have done — that speaks volumes to a team that is on the rise.
O’Neill: The season is very young still. The one-goal games are interesting and do show the amount of talent each team has. It also is a message that the margin for error is small(er) than ever! Teams have to be firing on all cylinders all the time. Back-to-backs show determination and fitness. Special teams are paramount and defensive discipline will help win games that are tight. For this reason Calgary, Toronto and Edmonton have to be considered as long term challengers for their division title. Goaltending is also key for winning the tight games. So far Brandon Miller is running away with goalie of the year honors and is making a huge difference for Philadelphia; Mike Poulin and Nick Rose have been the challengers.
VOCK: Marty brings up goaltending, which is another interesting issue at this point in the season. We’ve seen something like six of the nine teams make a goalie change in game play. Is this also a product of the league’s skill level? Meaning, is it more important for a coach to pull the trigger on a goalie switch when it feels like the other team is on a roll, in order to preserve a chance of sticking in the game? Oddly enough, one of the only teams that has yet to make a switch in the middle of a game is the 0-3 Rochester Knighthawks. Obviously a team’s record doesn’t necessarily reflect a team’s situation in goal.
O’NEILL: The season is more indicative of some defensive lapses and poor man downs. Most of the games I’ve watched have had many transition opportunities and about 40% on the penalty kill. That spells a tough night for any tender. Goalie switching is more about shifting momentum and trying to stop runs, and regrouping. I saw the quality of shots Kevin Croswell faced Sunday and it was a rough ride, most were good goals. I also watched Toronto pile a volume of shots on Tyler Carlson while Nick Rose faced some high end chances at the other end. The game is opening up, and goalies are wearing it.
CHAVEZ: I think there’s a lot to the margin of error thinking, too. Marty’s right in that goalie changes a lot of times are made for shifts in momentum. But with the way games are so tight these days, the margin of error is so much smaller than it’s ever been. So coaches can’t be shy about making changes and making tough decisions. They have to do anything they can — more than ever — to get that victory because the line between winning and losing is as fine as ever in the NLL.
JENNER: I always felt bad when goalies got pulled cause its not like a coach can pull a player for playing like junk or making a few errors. Generally it’s a momentum shifter as both Bob and Marty mentioned, but can also be used as an evaluation to see if the goalie has the mental toughness to get back in there. I’ve been on benches when a goalie gets pulled and I knew the coach was going to him back in. But when he came off, he threw a temper tantrum, so the coach let him sit the rest of the game. Poor goalies; so much pressure. As for Rochester: they either have NO confidence in their back-up or Vino has told Hasen that if he pulls him from the game he’s going to go on an all-Dinosaur BBQ diet.
VOCK: With the margin for error smaller than ever, how does that favor a team that might be high on fitness and mental toughness? For a team like Philly, how can their athleticism help them overcome perhaps a bit of inexperience as they look to rebound after losing twice over the weekend? For a team like Rochester, how important will mental toughness and focus be in looking to climb out of an early hole? Same could be said for teams looking much better, like Toronto, who will fight like hell to maintain that spot in the standings. In a one-goal league, as it’s been called, what can even the slightest advantage in mental toughness or athleticism do for a team in a tough spot?
O’NEILL: Athleticism vs. systems or mental toughness vs. skill level — it’s up for debate each and every game. Lose your discipline, lose a game. Bad match ups and get burned by speed teams like Minny and Philly. It’s a real chess game — in-game — now. Speed is starting to be the dominating skill … at least thats what I’m seeing.
You can’t have a bad night on the PP or in goal because it’s gotten tighter. Down the line, an injury to a key player or starting goalie could be a determining factor for making the playoffs. Still, I think Rochester just has to smooth out the bumps. All teams are dangerous in their own ways so far this year.
CHAVEZ: I’d argue that with the tightness of the league the way it is, it also takes some breaks to win and you create breaks by being tough mentally and athletically. The bottom line is the work ethic in every aspect. Mentally and physically, you can’t afford to be outworked. The last thing you want to regret after a game is getting outworked for a loose ball in the corner that cost your team a possession in a game you just lost by 1 goal.
JENNER: A lot of responsibility lies in the hands of the players. But we are also seeing some interesting coaching match-ups and game-plans. Using timeouts, saving timeouts, dressing a certain lineup for a specific team, what coach can make the best in-game adjustments often is a key variable in the NLL especially in a season as close as this one.
Rate This Story: