EVERETT, Wash. – With back-to-back wins under its belt and a division lead in its back pocket the Washington Stealth travel east to Philadelphia for a Saturday matchup with the surging Wings at the Wells Fargo Center. Game time is 5 p.m. PST and can be seen on the NLL on YouTube via the Lacrosse Network at YouTube.com/TLN.
Weary of a hot opponent, but hungry to put distance between itself and the rest of the West, Washington faces a tough test against a Wings squad that has climbed from a sub-.500 team in early February to just a game back of the NLL East-leading Toronto Rock.
“Philly might be the hottest team in the league right now,” said Stealth Assistant Coach Dan Perreault of the 5-3 Wings. “They’ve won their last three and they’re a big, strong, athletic team.”
Faced with the streaking opponent looking for its fourth consecutive win, the Stealth will need to be both aggressive and sharp to walk away for the Wells Fargo Center with victory on Saturday.
And wins have been tough to come by in this matchup for the Stealth, which dropped last season’s contest to Philadelphia in an 11-10 overtime heartbreaker.
“We have to be ready to go and when we hit that floor,” said Perreault, whose squad has managed just three wins in 12 games with the Wings dating back to 2000.
“We’ve got to be running,” he said.
Facing a Philadelphia defense that has held opponents to 10 or fewer goals in four of its eight games this season, Perreault and Head Coach Chris Hall will look for aggressiveness from not only their top guns; Rhys Duch, Athan Iannucci and Lewis Ratcliff, but also from a supporting cast that has come alive at the mid-point of the season.
Last weekend, in the Stealth’s 11-8 victory over Minnesota, Washington was led by the red-hot Iannucci, who’s back-to-back four-goal games has contributed to a 10-goal performance over the past three outings.
On Saturday, after spending much of his career in a Wings’ uniform, Iannucci will face his former club for the first time. As a member of the Wings in 2008, the Port Moody, British Columbia native scored an all-time NLL single season record 71 goals on his way to winning the 2008 NLL MVP.
Also hot of late is forward Brett Bucktooth.
With his first hat trick as a member of the Stealth last weekend and five goals in the past two games, the former Syracuse Orange standout has provided Stealth coaches with another go-to weapon in what is already a deep and potentially lethal offense.
“We are finally starting to find our groove out there,” said Bucktooth, who is among sixth Stealth players to score in the double digits this season.
“We’re communicating a lot better. Talking more on and off the floor. And building chemistry with each game,” he said. “Each shift everyone is getting their shots and we’re working for each other.”
After taking care of business last weekend against Minnesota, the Stealth are now two-games above the .500 mark and alone atop the NLL West for the first time since January.
Close at the heals of the Stealth are Edmonton and Calgary, which trail by just a game, while Minnesota fell two-and-a-half games back with their loss on Sunday at Comcast Arena. Colorado rounds-out the NLL West standings, a full three-games back of the Stealth, with a 2-6 record.
A key to Saturday’s contest is the goaltending matchup between the Stealth’s Tyler Richards and Wings’ stopper Brandon Miller.
The two pipe-minders feature prominently in the NLL’s top five goaltending statistics with Richards holding the attention of the league, ranking an NLL second with a 10.37 goals against average and fourth with 342 saves. Miller ranks fifth in both GAA with an 11.38 and saves with 301.
But it’s the Stealth defense that is tasked with keeping the Wings’ attack off balance. And off the stat sheet.
Among the Wings’ players, Stealth coaches will be eyeing is the first overall draft pick in 2011, Kevin Crowley.
Crowley leads the Wings with 39 points (15g, 24a) and was the Achilles heal for Washington last season, putting up five goals including the game winner in the Stealth’s overtime loss.
“They’re a team that builds momentum as the game moves along so we just have to be prepared and get our legs going early,” Perreault said.
Containing the Wings’ leading goal scorer Drew Westervelt and Kevin Buchanan will also be top of mind on Saturday.
Westervelt has delivered 16 goals and added 11 assists for 27 points this season, while Buchanan is the playmaker, leading Philadelphia with 27 assists on the year.
“We just have to match their work ethic. They’re big strong guys and they’ll go at you one-on-one more than any other team,” Perreault said. “They attack. They run the floor well and they have well balanced scoring.”
NLL WEEK 10
Game: Washington Stealth (6-4) at Philadelphia Wings (5-3)
Date: Saturday, March 9, 2013
Time: 5:00 p.m. PST
Location: Wells Fargo Center- Philadelphia, Pa.
Webcast: The Lacrosse Network available at www.stealthlax.com
With the assist on Brett Bucktooth’s fourth-quarter goal last weekend, forward Rhys Duch tallied his 400th career NLL point. Duch ranks second in the NLL with 26 goals and has also registered 31 assists, placing the Victoria, British Columbia native third in league points this season.
With 397 goals, Lewis Ratcliff is just three away from the 400 milestone. This is the 11th NLL season for Ohio State Buckeye who he has spent time in Calgary, Toronto and is now in his fourth season with Washington.
Saturday’s game marks the first time the Stealth have faced Paul Rabil since trading the transition player to Edmonton last season in exchange for forward Athan Iannucci. Rabil has since been traded to Rochester and finally to Philadelphia for the start of the 2013 season.