Denver Outlaws at New York Lizards (Saturday, 6:00PM)
The Lizards were awfully quick to slide to Myles Jones (who, in turn, dished out 7 assist opportunities) in Week 1. They dared an inexperienced attack unit to beat them, and it worked. The Bayhawks’ supporting cast shot 6-for-24 (25.0%) off the catch, while only creating one stepdown opportunity for Jones.
Drew Snider (38.9% off the dodge in 2016) and Jeremy Sieverts (24.6%) will let it fly like Jones. The difference is that teammates will make the Lizards pay for sliding upfield. Eric Law (57.5% off the catch), Mike Bocklet (41.2%) and Matt Kavanagh (46.7%) cash in their looks consistently.
First-year defensive coordinator Brian Dougherty – who inherits the league’s worst unit in defensive rating (15.95 points allowed per 45 possessions) – will have to scheme up a different gameplan against the Outlaws. With the way Greg Gurenlian is facing off and the Lizards’ offense is pumping in goals, his scheme might only need to make a few stops to be successful.
Rochester Rattlers at Florida Launch (Saturday, 7:00PM)
Rattlers’ opponents did not do much well offensively in 2016. Countless skip passes have been deflected by The Forest, and nearly every drive from X is thwarted by co-Defensive Player of the Year Mike Manley.
One way teams were able to produce points against the Rattlers: two-man games. Teams shot 38.7% off two-man games against the Rattlers; only the Lizards were worse. The Rattlers are so sound six-on-six that forcing them to play two-on-two can free up shooters. Even shallow cuts near the top of the arc can take away their slides.
Steve Pontrello is poised for a breakout season in Florida. He was regularly underappreciated in college – only retroactively have analysts referred to him as the prototypical alpha attackman on a championship squad. He goes from 0-to-60 mph as fast as anyone. He was brilliant as a pick-and-roll operator last weekend. When the defense didn’t hedge, he got to the middle of the field for a bucket; when they did, he sent a behind-the-back pass to his rolling teammate.
Somebody please tell Will Gural to stop scoring off every face-off win so we can see more of this.
Boston Cannons at Atlanta Blaze (Saturday, 7:00PM)
Boston’s defense is quick to support their on-ball matches. Veteran off-ball defenders like Brodie Merrill and Mitch Belisle cover up the crease while the Cannons recover, and they do it damn well. Opponents shot a league-worst 24.8% in six-on-six sets against the Cannons last summer.
The Launch offense – starring a cast of stopgaps until Kieran McArdle returns from his NLL commitments – exposed the Cannons’ off-ball defense without Merrill and Belisle in the lineup. Florida shot a healthy 37.9% in six-on-six sets and a league-high 41.7% when assisted. Sometimes there was no slide at all; other times, the Cannons slid too soon without a second slide ready. They have some of the best on-ball defenders in the league in Josh Hawkins, Brandon Mullins and Matt Landis. Let them compete!
Against the Atlanta Blaze, the Cannons may be slower to slide. Kevin Rice (hand) is out of the lineup. Who else can consistently win his individual matchup? Greg Coholan, Chris Bocklet, Dylan Donahue, Colin Dunster, James Pannell, Matt Mackrides and Justin Pennington shot a combined 13-for-53 (24.5%) off the dodge in 2016.
James Pannell is the Blaze’s best hope to make Cannons to hedge like last week. Pannell, who ran midfield last weekend, played behind the cage most of his career at Virginia; don’t be surprised to see him back there with Rice out of the lineup. He’s a confident dodger who does a great job attacking his defender’s body to negate the length of the pole.
Ohio Machine at Charlotte Hounds (Saturday, 7:30PM)
In his second season Joey Sankey nearly doubled his assist output (2.0 assists per game) from his rookie campaign (1.2 assists per game). When he first came in the league, he fell in love with the MLL rules and opted for the underneath move on the wing too often. As a rookie Sankey took 1.9 unassisted shots from the right wing per game; a year later he hit the brakes sooner, attempting only 0.7 of those do-or-die shots.
That patience has paid dividends for his teammates. Putting Sankey in pick-and-roll situations (where he had 9 of his 26 assists in 2016) instead of true isolations has helped his development as a passer. The Hounds are doing that again this season. Though he had no assists against the Outlaws, Sankey served up some tasty looks – both to the backside pipe and throwbacks to the picker.
The Faceless Men of Ohio play a physical pick defense. They picker’s defender will almost always chip Sankey, even if it results in them losing matchups. The Machine is okay with that; they slide frequently and never fret about matchups. Last summer the Machine only allowed 1.64 goals per game in pick-and-roll situations (2nd fewest in MLL). Whether or not Sankey can create the quality looks he did last week will be a key to this game for the Hounds.