The same kind of experience that has made Smart one of the nation’s best defensemen. The Bulldogs defense, which is first in the nation in scoring and assists, is facing a big test against a Georgia team that enters the weekend with wins over Florida State (twice) and Louisville. The good news is that Georgia is also second in the nation in stopping the man-advantage. The bad news is that this Bulldogs defense is allowing the fewest goals ever in a Saturday game. The Bulldogs have put up 12 goals in their last seven games against Vanderbilt, Florida Atlantic and UAB, and five goals in four of the last six outings against South Florida. This weekend Georgia should have the opportunity to be really good in a game that will determine the nation’s No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
As mentioned above, the Bulldogs haven’t been up to the same level of dominance they’ve shown against Georgia Tech and Florida in recent years. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, Georgia is 17-8 against Georgia Tech and 9-4 vs. South Florida. This is a pretty impressive performance considering that Georgia has gone 4-18 against SEC teams in the last five years and is now the only SEC team with a losing record in those games. That’s a tough look, too. However, Georgia continues to get results at home against better SEC teams thanks to its offense. The Bulldogs have averaged 3.6 goals per game on the season, which leads all SEC teams. Even with the two losses, Georgia is second in the SEC in goals for per game and has generated at least 20 shot attempts in 13 of its last 15 games going 15-3-3. Georgia also is third in the nation in shots on goal per game (38.3). It’s also a pretty solid defensive team that is currently allowing 3.8 goals per contest.
Of what this Georgia defense is lacking most is a dominant goal-scorer. Georgia has eight defensemen who rank in the top 10 in goals for per game and 10 defensemen who rank in the top 25 in points for per game, but it has never been able to put the ball in the net.
Vanderbilt is a very tough opponent to stop. * *
The Commodores were 8-7 with three wins over teams that were ranked in the middle of the top 10 in the country - LSU and Mississippi State. It’s a team that’s been dominant all season under first year head coach Matt Jones, and a team that hasn’t been able to make a huge statement offensively. To make matters worse, the Commodores are riding a 22-game winning streak into the weekend. And when you’re a team that has been dominating teams it’s hard to be dominant at a time like this.
On defense, the Commodores have been very successful at defending in the offensive end as they have only allowed one power play goal in their last 22 games. The team is also averaging 4.3 shot attempts per game, and as mentioned above they’re generating shots at an excellent rate. (Georgia currently sits fourth nationally in the nation in shot attempts per game.) That’s a pretty efficient offense. The big factor for Georgia going up against an offensive juggernaut such as Vanderbilt is that Vanderbilt’s top forward, Ondrej Vala, has been a serious pest in each of his last three games.
The real test for the Commodores will come on defense where Georgia has been more of a liability than an asset. The Commodores are allowing a league-best 27.4 goals per game. The Dawgs have been second in the nation in scoring at a league-best 4.8 goals per game and have scored 28 of their 38 goals from the backhand. (You can check out my breakdown on what Georgia’s defense has given up so far here .)
The loss of Vala isn’t the only thing that’s hindered the defense this season. Starting goaltender Carter Keneally missed the last three games with what Georgia coach David LeClair deemed an upper-body injury.
In his absence, the Commodores have allowed four power play goals this season, and while it would be nice to have them come out with five or six, all things considered the Bulldogs are now 6-3 when the forward lines don’t have multiple goalies. That means there will likely be a lot of second-year men up front when this game comes around and a lot of big chances by the young Bulldogs. ** If you want to see more of my NCAA tournament picks, you can check out my blog at DraftExpress.com . * **