10 Man Ride: Do not get happy
CLEAR! The ride is on. The Road to D.C. is about to reach its final destination. Whipsnakes and Chaos (Round II) in our nation's capital in two weeks. A lot has changed since those two clubs last met; we'll break it all down over the next week.
But first -- let's recap both semifinal matchups with 10 bullets:
1. Triple poles
Chaos LC utilized a rare defensive strategy: The triple pole.
“We thought their middies initiated a lot, and we tried to take that out,” said goalie Blaze Riorden.
Atlas -- who had shot 25.0% unassisted on the season entering the game -- had its worst dodge-to-shoot game (3-for-24, 13.5%) as it tried to punish perceived mismatches. The problem: Chaos has all the confidence -- correction: swagger and arrogance -- in the world in its short-sticks on an island.
“I think that anyone on our team can guard anyone on any team to be completely honest with you,” said Rowlett.
“I got through a lot of picks. Very rarely did [Teat] get a switch and was able to take advantage of that. And that just goes to our defensive midfield unit. They communicated great all game and they played hard as shit all game,” said Rowlett.
“Everybody has their respective strengths. [Defensive coordinator Ryan Curtis] is a master at identifying what those respective strengths are, and creating a plan to challenge them,” said head coach Andy Towers. “And that’s sort of sports in general. If you force your opponent to beat you in ways that they aren’t traditionally used to, then you’ve done your job.”
It was an unconventional defensive gameplan in all areas. Chaos locked off Teat on the powerplay. (Remember #FreeTeat?) And it worked. Blaze Riorden gobbled up 17 saves (68%), and when Blaze is gobbling up saves...
2. Chaos' collective first step from defense to offense
Chaos’ transition offense is looking as good as it has since 2019. (Where’s CJ Costabile’s sticker?!) Their collective first step in transition was consistently faster than the Bulls’. Matt Kinnear, Kevin Brown and I were in awe at halftime, trying to guess why that was.
Was it because Chaos slid less than usual, so they were in ideal spots to leak upfield? Or was it the shooter’s defender who cheated upfield? Or was Chaos simply faster than the Atlas?
MacKay is usually Blaze’s favorite receiver. With him lower on the field, it was CJ Costabile on the other end of Blaze’s dimes. The back-to-back Oren Lyons Goalie of the Year -- and MVP finalist -- dealt two assists and a second assist. Costabile took two of Blaze’s outlets to the house. When Blaze stares down stepdowns like this and outlets, it's a 2-point swing.
3. Dhane Smith inverts
I asked Chaos LC offensive coordinator Matt Panetta last week about their invert set (installed in Albany) and how often we’d see it compared to their pairs set.
“We have our base offense, but we don’t wanna be stale,” he told me. “You can’t run one offense the entire game.”
Dhane Smith dodged from X with a full bag of moves. Inside roll. Question mark. He looked comfortable -- and with no help in sight, he punished short-sticks.
“I do it because I really strongly believe if I’m going to do something it has to be all of me,” Glicini told Josh Schafer. Read more about Glicini (via Josh) here.
5. Cade van Raaphorst causing turnovers on- and off-ball
This Bulls defense under new defensive coordinator Ken Clausen has looked organized. They’re disruptive. They threw off Chaos’ rhythm early by extending out. It led to Josh Byrne and Chris Cloutier cuts later; like Towers said, you force your opponent to beat you in ways they aren’t typically used to.
Tucker Durkin was great down the stretch in a new role -- moving into an off-ball organizer role like Brodie Merrill and Matt Bocklet did later in their careers. Michael Rexrode owned his one-on-one matchup more often than not. Danny Logan is my pick for the George Boiardi Hard Hat SSDM of the Year. This defense will be fun to watch in 2022.
6. One man’s stepdown shooter is another man’s invert threat
Chrome LC viewed Justin Guterding as an off-ball finisher. A shooter who wasn’t shooting well; 4-for-23 (17.4%) on catch-and-shoot chances through the All-Star break. There was frustration. Head coach Tim Soudan wouldn’t sacrifice his locker room’s culture for someone shooting well -- never mind someone in a slump.
Guterding was shipped to the Whips for the best offer they could find: Rookie defenseman Nick Grill.
With the Whips, Guterding has been a lethal invert threat. 76.9% of his shots in a scaly kit have been unassisted -- a complete role reversal from Chrome’s chainmail, in which only 14.8% of his shots were off the dodge.
Inverts win playoff games. They calm the offense, limit transition in the opposite direction, extend possessions, and lead to high percentage looks. Guterding has shot 4-for-10 (40.0%) off the dodge with the Whipsnakes. He’s 20-for-65 (30.8%) unassisted in his PLL career -- and most of those shots were with a pole on him. When he takes a short-stick behind, it’s almost too easy.
Semi-related: Waterdogs LC SSDM Matt Whitcher played solid defense against Guterding and others. The Dogs have been dressing a lot of athletes in the middle of the field. Whitcher is the best of them on the defensive end.
7. Whipsnakes punting on 4th down
Most teams have adopted some form of this, though most teams don’t have Rambo or Zed. The Archers will let Grant Ament sling an east-to-west skip pass (see: Ryan Ambler’s catch in OT against Chrome in 2020), though north-south passes are a no-no. Some teams will dump the ball in the corner (boo!).
There’s really nothing better than letting Rambo and Zed attack 4-on-6s. Zed scored against a triple team on Sunday. A triple team! And if he doesn’t score, the Whipsnakes prevent transition.
The Waterdogs scored zero fast break goals against the Whipsnakes. They had scored three or more fast break goals in every game in July/August. Transition is a huge part of this team’s two-way identity. Their semi-transition wasn’t much better. Aside from one McArdle pick-and-roll goal, the Whipsnakes offensive midfielders -- Connor Kirst, Brad Smith, and others -- held their own when “trapped.”
8. Ryland Rees, splitting two
Defensive coordinator Matt Bocklet had this unit playing its best lacrosse down the stretch. They’ll be back, hungrier than ever, in 2022.
9. Crease Collapse of the Week: Michael Ehrhardt
Waterdogs LC attackman Ryan Brown was held to a season-low 3 shots. Denying him catch-and-shoot looks was an obvious point of emphasis. He was smothered on the crease for 48 minutes -- aside from a vineyard vines powerplay goal and one score off a mirror of Kieran McArdle.
His gravity opened up some passing lanes (specifically from Michael Sowers to Ethan Walker on the pipe). Helping from Brown -- either as the slide or the fill -- seemed to be discouraged. Michael Ehrhardt managed to cover him and the crease on this feed.
Ehrhardt collapses down to Zach Currier (expelliarmus!) after reading the passer’s eyes.
A regular in the CCOTW section, Ehrhardt’s length disrupts everything opposing offenses try to do. It’ll be interesting to see where the Whipsnakes place him against Chaos’ offense -- on the lefty side or the righty side -- and how Chaos counters. They tried to bury him in Week 1, but he kept finding his way back to the perimeter where he’s most disruptive.
10. Spain-ish pick-n-roll
This three-man game on the righty side looks a bit like a Spain pick-n-roll. McIntosh doesn’t really “pick” for Mikie Schlosser. And Brown doesn’t really “pick” for McIntosh, rather gets pushed into McIntosh’s man by Tim Muller. Still, accidentally, the Waterdogs run a pick-the-picker Spain action. And Phippsmagic denies it.