Johns Hopkins holds a slight 27-23-1 edge in its series with Syracuse, but the Orange has won six of the last seven meetings. The Blue Jays are 4-2 against the Orange under coach Dave Pietramala at Homewood Field.
No. 11 Syracuse (3-2) rebounded from back-to-back losses to then-No. 11 Maryland and then-No. 8 Virginia with a 14-8 victory over then-No. 14 St. John’s. An offense that ranks fifth in Division I in scoring at 14.0 has been paced by junior attackman Kevin Rice, who ranks fourth in the country in assists per game (3.0) and tied for 10th in points (4.6). But junior attackman Randy Staats (nine goals and seven assists) and freshman midfielder Jordan Evans (1, 0) sat out the win against St. John’s and are questionable for Saturday.
No. 2 Johns Hopkins (5-0) is seeking its third 6-0 start under Pietramala. The defense is ranked eighth in the nation after surrendering just 7.8 goals per game and has yet to allow an opponent to score 10 goals this season. Senior goalkeeper Eric Schneider has been more than a suitable successor to Pierce Bassett. Schneider ranks fourth in Division I in save percentage (.622) and eighth in goals-against average (7.33).
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Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Homewood Field in Baltimore on Saturday at noon.
1) Dominating faceoffs. The Orange advanced to last year’s NCAA title game despite winning just 42.0 percent (200 of 476) of their faceoffs. And even though the team welcomed a transfer in junior Mike Iacono, faceoffs continue to befuddle Syracuse, which has won just 43.5 percent (64 of 147) thus far. That would seem to bode well for the Blue Jays, who have won 60.6 percent (77 of 127) of their draws. Pietramala said faceoffs are a very unpredictable piece of the game.
“You could be a 30 or 40 percent faceoff team and go into a game and walk out of that game at 55 or 60 percent because of the styles,” he said. “There are just specific styles that are fitting against others or not fitting. You’re not guaranteed anything. A team may choose to muck it up a bit and force it to be a ground ball. I think in this instance, we go into this game knowing that what we’ve done in the past and knowing that our faceoff unit will put forth a great effort, but we’re not guaranteed anything. We need to make sure we understand that.”
2) Jumping on ground balls. Johns Hopkins ranks 16th in the country in ground balls, picking up an average of 32.2. The Orange is 41st at 28.0 ground balls. But Pietramala pointed out that if you subtract the loose balls gathered by the faceoff specialists for both teams (junior Drew Kennedy for the Blue Jays and senior Chris Daddio for Syracuse), the disparity drops to practically zero.
“If you take faceoffs out, I still think you’re looking at a Syracuse team that’s good off the ground,” Pietramala said. “They still concern me, that’s for sure. Look at [senior Matt] Harris, who is big at caused turnovers. They’ve played him at the pole and now close defense, and there’s a good chance we may see him there again. He’s a guy that’s very good off the ground. The kid [sophomore] Brandon Mullins has proven to be very good off the ground. So I think you just have to be careful not to be misled by that statistic with that group.”
3) Figuring out the goalie situation. Senior Dominic Lamolinara has started all five games in the net for the Orange. But the St. Mary’s graduate has had his fair share of ups and downs, and junior Bobby Wardwell has a better goals-against average than and almost the same save percentage as Lamolinara in 82 fewer minutes of play. Still, Pietramala said he fully expects Lamolinara to start and finish the game if Johns Hopkins is unable to chase him out of the cage.
“My concern isn’t that they’re playing two goalies,” Pietramala said. “I think they have their goalie, and it’s Lamolinara. I think if there’s a moment where he needs to take a deep breath or it’s just not a great day, I think they’ve done what we all have, which is pull the guy out. In our Penn State scrimmage, I pulled Eric Schneider out and let him take a deep breath for about five minutes, watch the game, get his wits about him, and then we put him back in. I think we’ve all had those moments. So I don’t look at them and say, ‘They’re a team that has played two goalies.’ Maybe early on, they did, but I think they seemed to have settled on Lamolinara, and I think he’s given them some stability there.”