EVERETT, Wash.— The Washington Stealth kick-off it’s run to the post-season Saturday night with a familiar foe as the West Division leading Calgary Roughnecks visit Comcast Arena for the first of three games against it’s divisional rival in the second half of the NLL season. Game time is 6:45 p.m. PST.
Closing-out the first half with an even 4-4 record, the second-place Stealth are in a healthy position to capture a playoff spot with five of its final eight games coming against West rivals.
For Coach Chris Hall, tonight’s contest against the 5-3 Roughnecks will not only give the Stealth a shot at reclaiming a share of the division lead, but set the tone for what is expected to be another hotly contested series between the two clubs.
“We’ve always thought that Calgary was one of the marquee teams in the league,” said Hall, who prior to taking over the pilot’s seat of the Stealth, coached the Roughnecks from 2002-07 including their NLL Champions Cup win in 2004.
“They have been (a top contender) year after year,” said Hall. “(This year) they got off to a little bit of a slow start but have been on fire ever since.”
Keys to Saturday night’s game include a trio of challenges for the Stealth including overcoming a high-producing Roughnecks attack, minimizing penalties and controlling possessions through face-offs.
For the Stealth, stopping a Calgary offense that averages just over 14 goals-per-game will require a step-up in scoring and holding in check the league’s top-ranked attack.
The Stealth’s goals, assists and points leader Rhys Duch, who knocked down a season-high four scores while dishing out four assists in last week’s loss to Edmonton, is expected to figure prominently.
Duch, who currently owns second spot among the NLL scoring leaders, knows that to come away with a victory on Saturday the Stealth will need to bring everything it has.
“Calgary is a team that is capability of scoring a lot of goals,” said the Victoria, British Columbia native. “They are well coached and they have a lot of fire power.”
The Stealth will also look for continued production from Cliff Smith and Dean Hill, who both have been vital this season combining for 19 of Washington’s third-ranked 95 goals.
And for Lewis Ratcliff to heat up.
Historically one of the NLL’s top producers, Ratcliff has recently slipped out of the NLL top five in goals after being held scoreless last weekend in Edmonton. To date, the Victoria native has scored 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points.
On defensive, the Stealth come into the game as the second toughest team to score against in the division holding opponents to an average of 12 goals per-game.
And it’s the return of rookie defenders Tim Henderson and Bill Hostrawser along with veteran Jeff Moleski, who has missed the past three games due to an injury he sustained in late January against Edmonton, that could give the Roughnecks fits.
“(Jeff Moleski) looks like he’s ready to go we’re expecting that he’s going to be back in the lineup on the weekend,” said Hall. “We’ve talked with Jeff and the doctors and we think he’s ready.”
Always a scrappy rivalry game, Saturday’s contest is expected to be no different as the Roughnecks penalty woes last weekend led in part to giving up 17 goals against Toronto on Friday and 16 against Minnesota on Saturday.
When Calgary and Washington last met on the Comcast Arena floor last February, the two rivals scrapped and clawed throughout the game combining for 192 penalty minutes in a one-goal contest won by the Roughnecks 12-11.
An intriguing matchup on Saturday night will be the competition in the face-off circle between brothers Bob and Geoff Snider.
For the past two seasons, the Snider brothers have become the two elite face off specialists in the NLL.
This season, the Stealth’s Bob Snider holds down second spot with 143 face-off wins while older brother Geoff of Calgary leads the NLL with 158.
“In this league getting that first possession after a goal or a stoppage is huge if you can win 70 percent of your draws,” said Snider, who will be facing his older brother for the fourth time in his career. Last weekend the young Bob, hit 700 face-off wins against the Rush.
“It’s really a momentum changer,” said the Stealth’s Snider. “You can turn it on and continue with goals or you can stop a team’s momentum,” he said.
Heading into its final eight games, the Stealth hope to start the second half of the season the way the first half began – with a win.
“I think we need to start turning wins into more positive things as building blocks as opposed to putting us into comfort zones where we tend to get a little complacent,” said Hall.
NLL WEEK 8
Game: Calgary Roughnecks (5-3) at Washington Stealth (4-4)
Date: Saturday, February 23, 2013
Time: 6:45 p.m. PST
Location: Comcast Arena- Everett, Wash.
Webcast: The Lacrosse Network available at www.stealthlax.com
Last weekend in Edmonton Bob Snider surpassed the 700 mark for career face off wins in the NLL. Historically, 688 of his now 703 face-off wins have come as a member of the Stealth.
Lewis Ratcliff is just five goals short of his 400th career NLL goal. This is Ratcliff’s 11th season in the NLL. He played six seasons in Calgary where he netted 210 of his goals.
In just his fourth NLL season, Cliff Smith, who has already had a career year with 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points, is just two loose balls short of his 100th career grab in this his fourth season in the NLL.
Faceoff specialists Bob and Geoff Snider’s father Mike will be in attendance for Saturday night’s rivalry game at Comcast Arena. Asked for a prediction on the outcome, Snider was a cool as a Washington, D.C. or Ottawa insider. “I’m staying neutral on this one,” he said.
The Stealth have moved defender Jeff Moleski from injured reserve to its active roster and released outright David Joyce.