With a 3-5 record in the first half of the 2011 season, the Washington Stealth has equaled its loss total from the National Lacrosse League Championship season a year ago. As the Stealth looks to regain its championship form in the second half of the season, the players and coaches are taking it one game at a time. And it starts tonight against the Colorado Mammoth (1-5) at the Comcast Arena at Everett.
With nearly the entire active roster returning from the 2010 squad that won it all, expectations were high for a Stealth repeat in 2011. But from the season opener, the Stealth have been battling injuries to key players that have left the team shorthanded in the early going.
The Stealth started the season with defensman Kyle Sorensen on the physically unable to perform list due to a knee injury suffered over the summer playing with the Peterborough Lakers. In the first game of the season, forward Jeff Zywicki, who recorded 70 points a year ago, went down with a knee injury that currently has him on the injured reserve. The Stealth also lost veteran forward Peter Morgan in the same game with a concussion. He two currently resides on the injured reserve list.
Along with those key injuries, other players have missed time with injuries, including goaltender Tyler Richards, who missed the first three games nursing an injury suffered in training camp, defenseman Eric Martin, who missed the last two games and forward Joel Dalgarno, who is set to come off the injured reserve list as early as this week.
“We’re missing some guys,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “We’re missing twenty-percent of our active roster, and they are all key guys and major contributors on this team both on the floor and in the locker room.”
Despite those injuries, the Stealth still harbors the league’s highest-scoring offense, averaging nearly 12 goals per game. The All-Star-bound trio of Lewis Ratcliff, Rhys Duch and Luke Wiles have stepped up in the absence of several offensive weapons. Ratcliff currently sits in second in the league with 48 points and 32 assists. Duch is second in the NLL with 21 goals. Wiles has come on strong with 25 of his 31 points in the last five games.
The Stealth defense is dealing with some consistency issues, giving up a league-worst 12.6 goals per game, including a combined 29 goals in two losses last weekend to the Edmonton Rush. With hopes of bolstering the back end, the Stealth acquired left-handed defenseman Ian Hawksbee in a trade with the Edmonton Rush earlier this week.
“We just aren’t executing the game plan on the floor,” said Hall after the Stealth’s 15-14 loss to Edmonton on February 12. “We need to play with more grit and execute when we get chances.”
The Stealth will have the chance to get back in the win column tomorrow night against a Colorado Mammoth squad they’ve defeated in seven straight games, including twice already this season. In two games at the Pepsi Center in Denver, the Stealth escaped the hostile environment with a 11-10 overtime victory on January 8, and then a 10-8 come-from-behind win on February 5. Despite the Mammoth’s 1-5 record and the recent success for the Stealth against its West Division rival, Hall knows that this week’s match-up is far from a guaranteed victory.
“They are a very talented lacrosse team that has been on the wrong side of some bad bounces,” he said. “There is no doubt they will be coming to the Comcast Arena hungry and looking to prove a point.”
Four of the Mammoth’s five losses this season have been by two goals or less. The only exception was last weekend’s 11-6 loss to the Boston Blazers. The Mammoth defense is fifth in the NLL, allowing just over ten goals per game. They are anchored by goaltender Chris Levis, who ranks among the top five goalies in goals against average (4th, 9.45) and save percentage (5th, .794).
The Mammoth offense is scoring just 8.8 goals per game, ninth in the league. Colorado’s star forwards John Grant and Brian Langtry have carried the offensive load for the team, recording 33 and 23 points respectively. Besides those two, no member of its current active roster has more than 12 points.
The Stealth will play the Mammoth at 8pm PST at the Comcast Arena on Friday, February 18. Tickets for the game start at just $13 and can be purchased by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.