May 22, 2013

Washburn's MLL Power Rankings: Denver New No. 1

by Evan Washburn | | Twitter

Reigning MLL defensive player of the year Lee Zink held Ned Crotty to just one host in Denver's dominant win over Rochester on Saturday night.
© Rich Barnes

Week Four in Major League Lacrosse was clearly the most exciting of what is a young season. There were two overtime games, one being a must win by Boston over their bitter rival Chesapeake. Denver exploded for 20 goals in one of the most lopsided games in recent memory. New York quietly took care of Ohio and heads into to the bye week 2-2.

The league takes the Memorial Day weekend off, but not before Hamilton and Ohio meet on Thursday night in primetime, the game can be seen on CBS Sports Network at 7:30 p.m.

1. Denver Outlaws (4-0)
Last week: 2

I was in the booth for the Outlaws dominant performance over the Rattlers and walked away thoroughly impressed. This team has talented depth and transitional midfielders that stir the drink. The offense was explosive Saturday night with three players putting up four plus goals.

The most impressive performance though was on the defensive end. Lee Zink, the 2012 defensive player of the year, held Ned Crotty to just one shot. I have never seen an all-star player taken so far out of his game as Crotty was Saturday night. Zink is the best defenseman in the world hands down.

Denver is atop the rankings because of their record and the fact that Chesapeake lost. They have been dominant against inferior opponents. The Outlaws' four wins have come against teams with a combined record of 3-12. Things get a bit more difficult for the Outlaws over their next three games when they face Boston, Hamilton and Chesapeake.

2. Chesapeake Bayhawks (3-1)
Last week: 1

Well, the Bayhawks undefeated season is ruined, but this is still the most dangerous team in the MLL.

Chesapeake ran into a desperate Boston team and lost in overtime 15-14. When you take a closer look at the statistics it's impressive that the game was that close. The Bayhawks midfield was the key to their success in 2012 and will be again this season.

Saturday night all-star midfielders Kyle Dixon, Ben Hunt and Michael Kimmel went 0-10 from the field. Those numbers and the final score is a testament to the incredible depth Chesapeake has.

The only real concern to come out of this game for the Bayhawks was their struggle in the faceoff game. Adam Rand went only 33 percent from the stripe and has been inconsistent throughout season. The hope for Dave Cottle and company is that Alex Smith will be able to make a successful return to the lineup in the coming weeks.

3. Hamilton Nationals (3-0)
Last week: 3

With two of their most productive offensive weapons, Joe Walters and Stephen Keogh, back in the lineup, the Nationals were pushed to the brink by a very undermanned Charlotte Hounds team.

Hamilton has made it through what is annually the most difficult portion of their season unscathed and can head into the bye week 4-0 if it takes care of business Thursday night in Ohio.

New head coach Dave Huntley has clearly made his imprint on this group. The egos are checked at the door, to the point where offensively there are times when they are too unselfish. Kevin Crowley is having an MVP caliber season, averaging over four points per game. The X-factor is former Villanova attackman Kevin Cunningham. Cunningham was picked up in the supplemental draft during the offseason and after three games has 10 points. According to Huntley, Cunningham is the best quarterbacking attackman in the league.

The one concern for this team going forward is in the goal. Brett Queener was fantastic in his first start of the season in Boston, but is now dealing with a knee injury. Queener will be back in the lineup Thursday night, but with his style of goaltending I would not be surprised if we see a backup in between the pipes sometime soon. I am not sold on reserve goalies Brent Herbst and Evan Kirk. Testing the trade market for a solid number two goalie would be a good idea.

4. New York Lizards (2-2)
Last week: 4

It is clear the Lizards are still figuring things out, but are getting better each week. Dominating Ohio is not a good judge of where exactly a team stands, but with the way the bottom half of the league has played New York is a top four team.

Drew Adams' 20-save performance was the biggest takeaway from the Lizards 14-8 win over the Machine. Offensively the new pieces had big nights. Stephen Berger finally broke through with six points, while Mark Matthews chipped in three goals and one assist.

The Lizards host the Hounds after the Memorial Day bye week, but the true litmus test for this team will come on June 6 when the Chesapeake Bayhawks visit New York.

5. Boston Cannons (1-3)
Last week: 7

The Cannons were in panic mode and responded. Beating the Chesapeake Bayhawks in the fashion that they did is something that could carry this team back into the top half of the rankings.

The biggest difference in the Cannons performance was their effort on 50-50 ground balls and the attention to detail on both ends of the field. Offensively things ran through Paul Rabil and Ryan Boyle, something that had not been the case in the first three weeks. Rabil had seven points, but what is more important were his 10 shots on goal. Rabil's shot is so powerful that it can wear down a goalie throughout a game. Boyle stepped up with the five points, including the game-winner in overtime.

Boston is not out of the woods by any means. But now they have a bit of confidence and more importantly the blue print for success.

6. Charlotte Hounds (1-3)
Last week: 6

Had the Cannons' win come against anyone other than the Bayhawks, Charlotte would be number five on this list. The Hounds went up to Hamilton for a Friday morning game without the heart of their roster. Missing were: Matt Danowski, Ryan Young, Joe Cinosky and Ryan Flanagan.

Despite not having those key players on both ends of the field, Charlotte fought back from an early hole to grab the lead. A 16-15 overtime loss provides obvious disappointment, but there were a lot of positives to come out of this game.

Rookie Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby were dynamic, combining for six points, and showed some of the shooting ability fans saw in last year's national championship run with Loyola. Peet Poillon was productive again with four points, and his consistency will be key for this team as it hopes to fight for a playoff spot.

7. Rochester Rattlers (1-3)
Last week: 5

I had high expectations for Rochester as it headed into last Saturday's game against Denver. Those expectations quickly turned to disappointment when they were routed 20-7.

The most shocking aspect of the Rattlers loss in Denver was their overall effort. There was no sense of urgency. Once Ned Crotty was rendered useless, thanks to Lee Zink, the team seemed to fall apart.

There are no real positives that can be taken out of week four for Rochester. The Denver game should be thrown in the trash and not brought up again. This team has the pieces to win, but something or someone needs to shake some life into a group that doesn't always bring the necessary effort.

8. Ohio Machine (0-3)
Last week: 8

It was another week and another loss for Ohio, who continues to search for ways to win. The Machine was never in its game against a more talented and organized New York team.

The offense is Steele Stanwick's to run, but his sophomore campaign is getting off to a slow start with only five points through three games. This week the Machine offense will look very different. Rookies Logan Schuss and Marcus Holman will most likely make their debut and could provide Stanwick with some much-needed weapons.

Speaking of rookies, the one player that every Machine fan was hoping to see this week was Peter Baum. It looks like Baum will miss the entire season due to lingering injuries stemming from a long college season. This is a disappointing reality for not only Ohio, but the league as a whole. One can only hope that Baum gets healthy and soon tests himself against the best players in the world in Major League Lacrosse.

Trying to figure out a successful lineup heading into week four is never a recipe for success, but I am happy to see the organization going with the youth movement. The best aspects of this roster can be found in its first- and second-year players.

Evan Washburn, the CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network commentator and host of CBS Sports Network's "Inside the MLL," provides weekly MLL power rankings throughout the season for Follow him on Twitter @EvanWashburn.

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