February 5, 2009

NLL Week 6 Notebook: The Week Ahead

by Theresa Smith, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

A look at the week ahead in the National Lacrosse League:

There are seven games on the schedule. Rochester has a bye.

Friday: Buffalo at Philadelphia (8 p.m. Eastern), Minnesota at Calgary (7:30 p.m. Mountain).

Saturday: Edmonton at Toronto (3:30 p.m. Eastern), New York at Boston (7:30 p.m. Eastern), Colorado at Minnesota (7 p.m. Central), San Jose at Portland (7:30 p.m. Pacific).

Sunday: Philadelphia at New York (7 p.m. Eastern).

Jacobs: 'Nick's Our Starter'

The most anticipated game is Minnesota (2-1) at Calgary (4-0). Both teams are coming off byes. The Swarm has proven to be stingy defenders, allowing only 8.3 goals per game. The most goals Minnesota has allowed is the 10 put up by defending champion Buffalo in the Swarm's lone loss, a 10-9 heartbreaker Jan. 24.

"We have a good idea where we are after playing Buffalo,'' said coach Duane Jacobs. "We're in pretty good shape. We're playing well defensively and offensively. We're very close to being on track. We fired 67 shots on Buffalo. They don't give up many shots to any team. Hopefully, we can sharpen up our shooting.''

While Jacobs was reluctant to reveal too much about his game plan, he allowed that Calgary's wealth of feeders on both sides, Josh Sanderson and Tracey Kelusky, pose a concern.

"We've got to be aware when they're on the floor,'' he said.

Sanderson, who leads the Roughnecks with eight goals and 17 assists, is one point away from tying Tom Marechek for fourth place on the NLL all-time points list at 773.

The Swarm (2-1) has used both goaltenders, Nick Patterson and Kevin Croswell. Unlike Buffalo, which rotates Ken Montour and Mike Thompson, there is a hierarchy in Minnesota.

"Nick's our starter,'' Jacobs said. "He's our No. 1 guy. We put Kevin in the first game in Portland; that was a good game for us to see where he was at, whether he was going to be what we thought he would be. He came through with flying colors, so we'll give him more starts down the line. I don't know if it will be for Calgary. For the most part, Nick Patterson will get most of the starts.''

Patterson won against San Jose and was pulled against Buffalo, after allowing four goals on 15 shots in 13 minutes, 19 seconds. In relief, Croswell took the loss, allowing six goals on 39 shots.

Croswell ranks second in the NLL with a 7.31 goals against average and .852 save percentage; Patterson is sixth at 9.00 and .810, respectively.

Blazers 'Much Different, Much Improved'

New York (3-2) plays Saturday at Boston (2-3).

Titans coach Ed Comeau is concerned about the offense, following consecutive games with just eight points, after averaging 15.6 points the first three games.

"Eight goals is not good enough,'' he said. "We need to shoot the ball better, we need to finish better, and we need to be better in the offensive zone. Our defense is playing pretty well.''

The matchup against the Blazers is a rematch of a Jan. 10 game in which the Titans prevailed 19-14.

"We're playing a bit better, but New York is a veteran team,'' said Boston coach Tom Ryan. "We will have our work cut out for us.''

Comeau has seen the growth of Ryan's young club.

"We're going there on the assumption we'll see a much different, much improved team,'' he said. "This is a huge game for Boston, just like it is a huge game for us.''

In the first meeting, Boston had plenty of power-play chances, but converted only 3 of 11, and the fierce nature of the budding rivals was in evidence when Boston's Paul Dawson fought New York's Rory Smith.

Rush Grows Road-Weary

Edmonton's killer schedule continues when the Rush (2-4) travels to Toronto (1-3), marking its fifth game in 16 days and fourth on the road.

The game represents Ryan Benesch's return to Air Canada Centre. Benesch, the NLL 2007 Rookie of the Year for Toronto, lost favor with Batley's predecessor, Glenn Clark, and was a healthy scratch for the first two games this season. After he was traded to Edmonton, he scored eight goals and made 12 assists in five games.

Craig Conn, who has not played this season due to a knee injury, might return for Toronto.

Huntley Quiet on Iannucci Front

Coming off a bye, Philadelphia (1-3) might have the services of 2008 NLL Most Valuable Player Athan Iannucci, but coach Dave Huntley was not forthcoming when asked about Iannucci's status and whether he has practiced recently.

The Wings play host to the defending champion Bandits on Friday and play at the New Jersey's Prudential Center against the Titans on Sunday.

Comeau will prepare his players for Iannucci just in case.

"Obviously with a player of his caliber, you have to have a plan,'' Kilgour said. "We'll review him, how he plays, and we'll also understand that he might not be there.''

Iannucci, who is rehabilitating from a torn knee ligament, returned against Boston on Jan. 23, but left in the first quarter after apparently aggravating the injury.

Both Wings opponents this weekend, including 5-0 Buffalo, boast efficient power plays.

"If you foul a lot, you put yourself at a disadvantage,'' Huntley said. "They both have terrific power plays, they play with lots of skill and they've been playing together. We have to stay out of the penalty box.''

Tough Two-Step for Swarm

The Colorado-Minnesota matchup marks only the second time the Mammoth have played the Swarm, who will be coming home to St. Paul on Saturday after playing in Calgary on Friday.

"They might be a little tired, so if we get a jump on them that will be good for us," said Mammoth goaltender Andrew Leyshon.

Jax Expect Game Stealth

The last game on Saturday night features San Jose at Portland. Both teams are coming off wins.

"It's going to be difficult; it always is with San Jose,'' said Portland coach Derek Keenan. "Based on what I've seen, they're a very good team. They are a handful offensively with the talent they have and the size they have."

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