Well, we’re already a quarter of the way through the 2011 season. The Stealth got off to a rough start in its first three games, but with last week’s 19-14 win in Calgary, the boys seemed to be back in the form fans are used to seeing from the defending NLL Champions. And even though it has only been four games, there are some statistical trends developing in the early going that may shed some light on what the team needs to do the rest of the season to continue its winning ways.
Get Going in the Early Going
The logical place to start is the beginning of the game. It may be an obvious statement, but getting an edge on the scoreboard early gives you a better chance to win. The Stealth is no different. In both wins this season, the Stealth was in the lead by a combined four goals at the end of the first quarter. In both losses, they trailed after the opening stanza by a combined five goals.
Looking at last year’s championship season, the Stealth finished the regular season 8-0 in games where they held a first quarter lead. They finished 2-5 (the team lost just five games last year) in games in which they trailed after one.
The boys over at IL Indoor.com are always preaching the importance of special teams in the NLL. Historically, teams that rank in the top three in both power play and penalty kill are still around when the Champion’s Cup winner is decided. Last season, the Stealth ranked third on the power play (51.2%) and were tops in the league in penalty kill (69.3%).
That trend continues for the Stealth this season. In two wins this season, the Stealth has converted on 53% of its power play opportunities, including a 5-for-10 effort last weekend against Calgary. In two losses, the power play found the back of the net just 37.5% of the time. The man-down unit killed 64% of opponent’s power play opportunities in wins, just 50% in losses.
The Stealth power play currently ranks second in the NLL at 47.8% while the penalty kill has work to do, ranked eighth at 57.1% (Toronto leads the league at a ridiculous 87.5%).
Coming into the season, everyone expected the potent Stealth offense to be led by Lewis Ratcliff, Rhys Duch and Jeff Zywicki. They scored 97, 86 and 71 points in 2010, respectively, in the NLL’s highest-scoring offense. But what made the 2010 Stealth offense so spectacular were the contributions from the rest of the team. Zywicki’s placement on the injured reserve list after just one game in 2011 makes the secondary scoring for the Stealth even more important going forward.
In 2010, six Stealth players recorded 10 goals or more and ten had at least five. But it wasn’t just how many players scored goals; it was also from what position. When the Stealth gets contributions from the transition and defensive players, they are tough to stop.
Looking at 2011, in the two wins at least six players found the back of the net. Of the six players to score in the win over Colorado, three goals were scored by defense-first players; two by Kyle Hartzell and one by Mike Grimes. Grimes was also one of the seven to score in the win over Calgary, along with transition player Jason Bloom. In the losses, Grimes was the only defenseman to tally a goal and offensive-minded transition player Paul Rabil scored twice.
The scoring out of the back door is nice to have, but not to be relied on. The forwards earn their money on the scoreboard and when the guys not named Ratcliff or Duch (or Zywicki when healthy) find the back of the net, that’s when the Stealth offense explodes.
Last weekend is the best example of that, as the offense’s supporting cast scored eleven times. “The Show” Luke Wiles put together his best effort of the season with five goals and five assists. Craig Conn, signed to take over Zywicki’s spot in the offense, put up four goals and an assist and Cam Sedgwick, coming off his third straight 50-point season a year ago, got back on track with two goals and four assists. The result: 19 goals, the Stealth’s highest offensive output since the 2009 playoffs.
Finding the Answer
Lacrosse is a game of momentum. Keeping the opposing team from going on a run keeps you in the game on the scoreboard and mentally. So finding a way to score a goal becomes even more important following a goal by the opponent.
In the Stealth’s two losses this season, they were able to answer an opponent’s goal with a goal of their own just twice. In the Minnesota game, the Stealth’s worst defeat since 2009, the Swarm went on five runs of two or more goals, including a five-goal spurt in the second quarter.
In the two Stealth wins, the Stealth found the answer eleven times, going on a run of its own nine times. Last weekend’s win proving the point even further, as the Roughnecks were allowed to score back-to-back goals just once.
It’s that easy when you are crunching the numbers on paper. It’s not as easy out on the floor when big, angry men are violently bludgeoning you with a stick. But after a performance like last weekend in Calgary, it’s safe to say that when the boys in Red & Black are on their game, they are pretty darn good.
See if they continue to click this Saturday, January 29 in Minnesota. The game starts at 5:30pm PST and can be seen on the NLL Network at NLL.com.