By Aaron Lommers
EVERETT -- When the opening faceoff takes place tonight between the Washington Stealth and the Rochester Knighthawks, the Stealth will be facing a team desperately needing a victory.
The defending National Lacrosse League champion Knighthawks are winless in their first three games -- a chain of events set in motion by the Stealth, who defeated Rochester 13-12 in the NLL season-opener at Comcast Arena on Jan. 5.
"I suppose that this team is going to be extremely hungry because at 0-3 they are starting to get their backs against the wall a little bit," Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. "Will they be any hungrier than they were last weekend at 0-2? I don't know. Certainly they are playing in front of their home fans this weekend and they need a win, but you know what, so do we."
The Stealth, on the road for their third consecutive game, had back-to-back road games against Edmonton and Minnesota last weekend, beating Edmonton 12-10 and falling to Minnesota 15-14. At 3-2, the Stealth remain in first place in the NLL West division entering tonight's 5 p.m. game at Rochester. After back-to-back wins last weekend, Calgary has recovered from an 0-2 start to pull within a half game of the Stealth. Calgary is in Edmonton tonight to face the Rush.
The Stealth got a boost last weekend by the return of goalkeeper Tyler Richards, who had missed two games with a lower-body injury. Richards saved 37 of 47 shots in the victory over Edmonton and 37 of 52 in the loss against Minnesota.
"He's not only our number one stopper, but he's one of the top stoppers in the league," Hall said. "We missed him when he wasn't there. So obviously getting him back really provided us with a lot of confidence knowing that he's back not only making the saves we want him to make, but also back there making some spectacular saves for us."
When preparing to play Rochester again this weekend, Hall said he is less likely to focus on the season opener than he is to look at what the Stealth need to improve on after five games played.
Against Minnesota, Hall was disappointed with his offense's ability to stop the Swarm from scoring transition goals. He added that the Stealth turned the ball over too much and passed the ball poorly at times.
The power play has also been an area of concern. Washington is scoring on just 44.4 percent of its power plays and killing just 28.6 percent of other teams' power plays, both worst in the NLL. It won't be easy to improve this week. Rochester is near the middle of the league in taking advantage of its power play at 54.5 percent and they are first in killing opponents' power plays at 64.3 percent.
"Our man-down team is struggling big time," Hall said. "And our power play is struggling as well. The power play may be getting a little bit better in terms of scoring goals, but we are doing very poorly in terms of giving up shorthanded goals."
Hall said the Stealth power play can improve. The personnel on the offensive end are largely the same and this coaching staff has seen that group be successful before. This season, Hall said his team lacks chemistry when they have at least a one-man advantage.
"We have faced a couple of power plays in the league so far that were pretty to watch," Hall said. "They moved the ball extremely well and they work well together and they work as a unit. I think we need to develop that kind of chemistry on our power play."
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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