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Crunching the Numbers...

03/03/2010, 10:28pm PST
By Washington Stealth

The National Lacrosse League season is the equivalent of a roller coaster ride.  One minute you are up, the next your down and you could be spiraling out of control at any moment.   Three teams in the NLL are currently in the midst of at least a three-game losing streak, while two teams have won three straight.  In the NLL, sometimes you’re up, sometimes your down but the great teams always bounce back.

The Washington Stealth currently sits atop the West Division - and the National Lacrosse League – with a 6-3 record.  But after starting at 6-0, the Stealth has dropped their last three games.  While the recent slump isn’t necessarily a reason to panic (remember there are plenty of peaks and valleys throughout a season), it does raise some eyebrows. 

If you look at the first nine games of the season and break it down into three-game segments, there are some interesting trends that coincide with the current fall the Stealth is on at the moment.  Below is a table comparing some statistics between each three-game stretch of the season.

Stat

1st Three Games
(3-0)

2nd Three Games
(3-0)

3rd Three Games
(0-3)

Opponents’ Record

9-15

10-13

13-11

Goals Scored (g/gm)

45 (15)

40 (13.33)

30 (10)

Goals Allowed (g/gm)

26 (8.67)

35 (11.67)

40 (13.33)

Power Play

.461

.428

.470

Penalty Kill

.800

.834

.471

Penalty Minutes

69

54

110

Loose Balls/gm (+/-)

77.3 (+33)

77.3 (+6)

78.3 (+3)

Big 3 (% of team goals)

19 (42%)

23 (57.5%)

16 (53%)

# of goal scorers/gm

8.67

6.33

5.67

Save %

.803

.760

.738



One thing to note is that the collective record of the Stealth’s opponents has improved as the season has gone on.  The “Opponents’ Record” row is the cumulative record of the Stealth’s three opponents through week eight of the NLL season.

The easiest stats to look at first are goals scored and goals allowed.  When the Stealth came out of the gates on fire in the first three games (3-0), they were the league leaders in goals scored with 45 (15 g/gm).  While the offense lit up the scoreboard, on the other end the Stealth defense was holding opponents to just 8.67 goals per game.

In the second three games (3-0), those numbers dropped.  While the Stealth continued to put goals up at over 13 per game, their goals allowed average jumped three goals per game from 8.67 to 11.67.

In the three most recent games (0-3), that trend continued.  Offensively, the Stealth has scored just ten goals per game and allowed over 13.  That’s nearly a ten-goal per game swing between the first three and last three games of the season so far.

One of the most telling stats offensively is the number of goal scorers per game.  At the start of the season, one big reason for the Stealth’s early success was their depth and ability to score from every position.  In the first three games, nearly nine players per game were contributing on the scoreboard.  Ten players scored a goal in the season opener on January 9.  Since then however, the number of players contributing with a goal has dropped to 5.67 per game. 

With the number of players scoring goals on the decline, more pressure has been put on the Stealth’s “Big 3” in the goals column, Jeff Zywicki, Lewis Ratcliff and Rhys Duch (labeled the “Big 3” merely because they are the team’s top three goal scorers).  In the first three games, their 19 goals combined accounted for just 42% of the Stealth’s goals.  In the last three games, they have accounted for 53% of the scoring with 16 goals.

On the defensive end, there is no doubt that injuries have played a major part in the decline of the numbers.  On the penalty kill unit, the Stealth have spent time with two or more of the following penalty kill players out of the lineup: Travis Gillespie (last 8 games), Kyle Sorensen (last 4 games), Eric Martin (2 games), Mike Grimes (1 game).  As a result, the Stealth penalty kill went from stopping 80% of opponents’ power plays to start the season, to just 47% in the last three games.  They still lead the league, killing over 68% of the power plays they face.

Between the pipes, the Stealth has also had a bit of a drop off.  Again, the number of injuries on the defensive end has played a role in this decline as opponents have been given an uncharacteristically large number of point blank opportunities in front of the cage lately.  To start the season, Stealth goaltenders Tyler Richards and Matt Roik combined for a .800 save percentage.  That would rank second in the league right now.  In the three Stealth losses, that save percentage dropped to .738.

Statistically speaking, the Stealth has seen a decline in nearly every category during their current losing streak. But it’s just three games.  Offensively, when the Stealth get back to moving the ball and getting everyone involved like they did to start the season, the numbers will improve.  And as the defense gets healthy and starts playing the tenacious team defense that Stealth fans grew accustomed to at the season’s beginning, the numbers will improve. 

Most importantly, these are just numbers on paper and the game isn’t played on paper. And on this rollercoaster ride, there is plenty of hope for a return to the win column.  You just ride out the gut-wrenching drop until the tracks point upward again.

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