Shaggy's Hotbird Huck: Week 7

June 8, 2023 

By Shaggy Shragis

The Philadelphia Phoenix (2-4) travel north this weekend to take on the Toronto Rush (2-3) for the first meeting between the two teams in the 2023 season. Both teams have straightforward routes to the playoffs that require beating the other team. Philadelphia will look to build on the momentum of toppling the Carolina Flyers, while Toronto is seeking just their second win against an American opponent in four years.

Five years may seem like a long time ago, but you have to travel all the way back to 2018 to find the last time the Rush defeated the Phoenix. Philadelphia has won the last four meetings, despite not having defeated Toronto a single time before 2019. Philly’s 2019 sweep of the Rush spelled the end of Canada’s dominance over the division. They went on to lose to New York in the playoffs that year, lost the Canada Cup in 2021, and missed the playoffs in 2022 for the first time in franchise history.

Toronto will be favored in three remaining games on their schedule: home against Pittsburgh and Montreal, and in Detroit against the Mechanix. Counting a home game against Boston as a victory (which I do), the Rush need to win just one of their two games against Philadelphia in order to secure a playoff berth. That would give them a 7-5 record, and would force Boston and Philadelphia to remain essentially perfect down the stretch to surpass them. Unlike the controversy impacting the Philadelphia Surge, the records here matter.

Philadelphia, for their part, lost all available wiggle room with their loss in Boston. They have to almost certainly win 4-of-4 Canada games to make the playoffs, including this first match in Toronto this weekend. This first test matches up favorably for Philadelphia—a top defense in the league—as Toronto is averaging 25 turnovers per game. One of the few teams with an offense scoring less efficiently than the Hotbirds’ own, five of Toronto’s top eight players on offense are completing less than 90% of their passes. This is the worst offense Philadelphia has faced all season, and it will be interesting to see what sort of havoc they can wreak after sharpening the blade against elite offensive teams like DC and Carolina.

Toronto’s high variance high possession play ing style matches up poorly against the Hotbird offense as well. Despite generating a sizable chunk of turnovers, the Toronto defense is second-to-last at converting those turnovers into breaks, with a paltry 31% D-line conversion rate. At their best, this Philly team likes to take shots, and to beat them the other team needs to take advantage and convert those into points. If Toronto cannot capitalize on Hotbird turnovers, this game could get ugly quick for the Canadians.

On the flip side, the Rush are one of the few teams in the league that, at least on paper, have favorable matchups on defense for Philly’s deep game. Full of 6-foot plus (1.8 meter plus since we’ll be in Canada) defenders like Keith Mcrae, AUDL All-Star Phil Turner, or free agent signing from Ottawa Geoff Bevan, Toronto is one of the few teams that can match the Hotbird O-line size for size. Last season’s game in Toronto saw the Phoenix thow 22 hucks and complete just 13 of them, hampered by Canada’s size. This season Toronto lets up the fifth most hucks per game, and is holding teams to the sixth worst huck percentage.

When it comes to defending the deep game however, Philadelphia has a slight edge on the Rush. Despite allowing just 6 hucks per game, the Phoenix are holding opponents to the third worst huck completion percentage in the league. That was on full display in this past game against Carolina, where the Hotbirds ate up several Flyer huck attempts. While Toronto does not go deep as often as a team of their size might be expected to, the deep-game defensive edge goes to Philly.

Philly has had Toronto’s number the past few seasons, and the Rush have not beaten the Phoenix since Mark Lloyd retired in 2018 (Mark Lloyd has the sixth best plus minus per 100 points of any player in league history and is one of the greatest AUDL players of all time). I predict much of the same for this game between the Philadelphia Phoenix and one of the few teams in the league with a less efficient offense. For all the smoke Canada has been dumping on Philly this week, the Hotbirds are bringing the fire up north this weekend. I predict a five-point victory for the Phoenix, and a fun bus ride home to smoky Philadelphia.