The Toronto Rock have had nearly a month to stew over a last-minute heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Georgia Swarm. On Friday, they get another shot at the East Division leaders on home floor, and they’ll be looking to hand the Swarm their first loss of the new campaign.
Georgia has come out of the gates hot, sitting atop the East Division with wins over the Rock, New England Black Wolves, Vancouver Warriors, and Philadelphia Wings.
The Rock are on a two-game winning streak after victories over the Wings and Colorado Mammoth. The game against the former saw Toronto have just three scorers – Tom Schreiber, Adam Jones, and Brandon Slade. Facing the latter, the Rock got a more spread out offensive attack, along with some scoring in transition.
They’ll need to be firing on all cylinders against Georgia. The Swarm are unquestionably the class of the East due to their star-studded offence, fast and physical defence, and top goaltender Mike Poulin. If you make a mistake, they’ll pounce on the opportunity.
It’ll be another battle in the faceoff circle this game, as Jay Thorimbert and Jordan MacIntosh go head to head. Toronto came out ahead in the battle last time, winning 17 of 28 draws.
Toronto starter Nick Rose has gotten off to a great start this season. He has the third most saves in the NLL with 169 and owns a .793 save percentage, which is second best in the league.
The Rock have dropped the last six meetings – including playoffs – combined to the Swarm. Their last victory came in overtime during the 2017 season. They’ll need a complete effort to finally break the drought.
Players to watch
The Swarm’s defence will make it extremely hard for Rob Hellyer to get open after he torched them for 10 points in the last matchup. That means it’ll be on Schreiber to help carry the Rock offensively – it shouldn’t be a massive ask, as he’s leading the team in scoring.
Schreiber had 5 points in the loss to Georgia in January. He’ll likely have a similar game this time out as well.
After the last meeting with the Swarm, Jones has gone on a hot streak. He’s scored seven goals in his last two games, highlighted by a five-goal performance against Philadelphia.
Mr Jones put up three assists against Georgia last time out. Bank on him having a bigger impact on this game. He’s found his shooting stroke and the ball is starting to fall for the sniper.
Five goals, five assists on 11 Rock goals in the team’s last meeting with Georgia. Not too shabby. Hellyer has just eight points in his last two games combined. That’s how dominant his performance was.
He’ll be hard-pressed to have another game like that against the Swarm’s defence. He’ll have to work for his looks, but Hellyer isn’t going to be kept silent for an entire game. Look for him and Schreiber to work the two-man game to help get open shots.
Lost in the shuffle of Hellyer’s heroics was McArdle, who had the best game of his young career with two goals and six points on seven shots.
“Kieran is a great player in his own right and its a pretty big shadow to break in there with what Tom (Schreiber) has done. Kieran was great for us in Buffalo in game one, and he’s slowly been coming along, but you look at his numbers over the first couple of years and they’re nothing to sneeze at either. So it’s good to see him maybe getting a bit more confidence and putting the ball in the net, but we really like Kieran – he’s a tough check,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said of the third-year forward.
He’s certainly looking more confident with the ball in his stick. The Rock need someone other than the Big Three to put the ball in the net to beat Georgia. McArdle is one of the best options to do that.
The Rock defence did a good job, at times, of limiting Thompson, but he’s way too good to be held down for a full 60 minutes. He scored the last two goals in the previous meeting, including the game-winner with 24 seconds left.
He can do everything. Thompson has 22 points on the year – 11 goals and 11 assists. Toronto has to find a way to get him under wraps. Unfortunately, that just gives more opportunities to the Swarm’s other scorers.
Georgia’s right-handed side is stacked and Staats has been a force this year.
While he has six goals on the campaign, he’s been more efficient as a distributor, piling up 15 assists through the first four games of the year.
Toronto held Staats to a single goal and two assists on 10 shots. He likely will convert on a few more shots now that he has an idea of what to expect from the Rock defence.
Toronto managed to hold him to just a single assist last time out. That’s unlike Jackson, who usually excels against the Rock.
He only has 11 points in the first four games of the campaign, but don’t let that fool you. He’s bound for a big game sooner or later.
The Swarm’s captain takes draws, plays defence, and is a threat in transition – he also plays the odd offensive set.
He was a big factor in Georgia’s victory against the Rock in December. He’ll have to contribute all over the floor again to give his team the best chance to make it a 2-0 lead in the season series.