Ben Williams lost the opening face-off of the game. After that, pretty much everything came up Orange on Saturday afternoon in the Carrier Dome, where the No. 3 ranked Syracuse Orange made quick work of the St. John's Red Storm, dispatching the Johnnies by a score of 15-4.
The offense clicked from start to finish, with 10 different players scoring at least one goal on the day. Nick Mariano, Dylan Donahue, and Jordan Evans led the way for Syracuse, each scoring four points, while Mariano recorded his second consecutive hat trick. Tim Barber, Sergio Salcido, and Derek DeJoe all chipped in two points each, while Brad McKinney and Pat Carlin both tallied the first goals of their careers.
So, Syracuse is undefeated as they head into the toughest stretch of the season the next three weeks. Let's take a look at what's trending UP for the Orange after five games:
With approximately 11:30 remaining in the third quarter, Joe Gillis cleanly picked off a pass on a St. John's clearance attempt and threw it ahead to Dylan Donahue, who was in behind the St. John's defense for an easy goal. All in one play, Syracuse demonstrated their ability to be efficient in both sides of the transition game.
Whether it's transitioning to offense or defense, the 2016 Syracuse Orange have been top notch. Very top, in fact. Through five games, Syracuse has cleared the ball successfully in 89 of 94 attempts (they were 17 for 17 in Saturday's game). That .947 percentage puts them first in the entire country, and helps ensure that the Orange rarely waste their possessions.
When transitioning to defense, the Orange are equally as good. This season, Orange opponents are just 85-106 in clearance attempts, a clip of only .802 percent. That ability was on display against St. John's, as the Orange held the Red Storm to just 16-23 clearing. Especially with the possession advantage that Ben Williams provides, any team that clears that poorly against Syracuse is surely in serious trouble.
When you combine Syracuse's ability to clear to their offense with their ability to stop their opponents from doing the same, you've got a big time possession advantage for the Orange.
Ben Williams is the man. You know the story, so let's just go over the numbers. Ben is winning .701 percent of his face-offs so far this season, good for third best in the country. Cal Paduda, who went 3-3 in this game, is actually 11-14 on the season, a .786 success rate. In this game, Ben and Cal combined to go 18 for 22 (.818 percent).
As a team, the Orange are winning .718 percent of their draws, the top face-off winning percentage in the country. Face-off wins have also helped the Orange to a big ground ball advantage. They dominated St. John's in the GB game, 37-19, and on the season, they hold a 178-130 advantage over their opponents. With the best face-off success rate and best clearing percentage rate in the country, Syracuse is absolutely maximizing their possessions so far this season.
When this season began, the main storyline was where the offensive answers would come from in the wake of the departures Kevin Rice, Randy Staats, and company. Through five games, we have gotten plenty of answers that speak to both the individual ability of Syracuse's offensive talent, as well as their ability to work as a unit.
Syracuse currently sits at third in the country in total scoring offense, averaging 14.4 goals per game. In addition, the Orange's .335 shooting percentage ranks them 10th best in the country. An offensive unit that had so many questions hanging over it to start the season has answered the call about as well as could be expected through five games.
The points and production that were vacated by graduation last year have been picked up by some guys who are either newcomers or are stepping up into much bigger roles for the Orange this season, which leads me to my next trend...
The First-Line Midfield
Junior Nick Mariano leads the charge of newcomers to this year's Syracuse squad. The UMASS transfer has stepped in and contributed immediately in his role as a first-line midfielder. Against St. John's, he put up four points and recorded his second-straight hat trick. On the season, Mariano is tied for second on the team in points and leads the Orange with 11 goals scored. He has shown his ability as both a dodger and a dangerous outside shooter, and his contributions have been a big help to the 5-0 start for Syracuse.
Senior Derek DeJoe has been the Orange's most dangerous shooter this season. Through five games, DeJoe is shooting .526 percent, exceptionally good for a midfielder. His 10 goals are tied for second best on the team, and, probably most important, he has shown an improved offensive arsenal so far this season. DeJoe has always been known as an outside shooter, but in his senior campaign, he is proving his worth as a dodger, scoring multiple goals off and helping to initiate team offense off the dodge. His improvement from junior to senior seasons has been another huge component to Syracuse's offensive start to this season.
Redshirt junior Sergio Salcido is probably the least talked about of the three first-liners, but his contributions should not be overlooked. His 13 points are good for fourth best on the team right now, and he has shown great consistency by scoring a goal in every game this season. His pure speed and quickness helps bring an extra dimension to the Syracuse offense. For me, Salcido has been the most pleasant surprise of the young season. I was a little surprised to see him on the first-line midfield to start the season, and I have been very impressed by the abilities he has shown us so far.
All in all, the first line of midfield has had a surprisingly great start to the season. They have stepped up nicely and helped to fill the giant void of offensive production that needed to be replaced. Their production will need to continue for the Orange to continue having success this season.
Now is when things get tricky. Syracuse's next three games are at the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays, at the Duke Blue Devils, and at home to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. This will be by far the Orange's toughest stretch of the regular season, and it will provide a true test of how our boys match up against some of the nation's elite this season.
If Syracuse is to have success in these next three games, and beyond, then the trends we've covered here will need to keep trending up against this top flight competition.
Syracuse will return to the field next Saturday, March 19th, at 4 pm, when the Orange head down to Homewood Field to take on the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN U.