Two reasons why the Washington Stealth can make a run at the championship
They started the season brilliantly winning their first two games and jumping out to a 3-1 record, but after losing two straight road games they had fallen out first place an weaknesses in their game were becoming more apparent.
Washington got the win they needed. They defeated the Colorado Mammoth 13-6 and in improved to 2-0 against Colorado on the season. The Stealth are back above .500 at 4-3 and have second place in the West Division all to themselves, trailing Calgary by a half game.
Two things happened in Saturday night's game that showed why the Stealth are talented enough to make a run at a championship this season.
It all starts with Tyler Richards. In hockey and lacrosse, goalkeeping wins championships and it's usually the hot goaltender that delivers the title, no matter what his team's seed is, come playoff time.
Right now there is no one hotter than Richards. Richards saved 48 of 55 shots in a 7-6 loss to Rochester last weekend and found a way to improve on it this week. Against Colorado, Richards saved 51 of 57 shots, an .895 save percentage. Sure, the Stealth only won one of the games in Richards back-to-back gems, but he gives them a chance to win every night.
In the Stealth's loss to Rochester they scored just six goals. That's probably not going to happen again all season. But Richards can hold teams that low on a consistent basis. It might be nine or 10 on some nights instead of six or seven, but even nine or 10 goals against is a great average.
Richards said after the game he is motivated by returning to -- and winning -- the NLL Champion's Cup. That motivation and his stellar play between the pipes are a recipe for success.
If Richards keeps this up, Stealth fans will almost certainly get to watch their team play at Comcast Arena in the postseason, something they haven't been able to do since the team won the championship in 2010.
Richards isn't alone in his efforts, the Stealth's young defense has been protecting him these past few weeks. They are physical with the opponent and they it has shown the ability to shut down stars. John Grant Jr., who came into the game with 30 points and led the league in goals with 17 was held to just one point -- an assist.
The second reason the Stealth have what it takes to win it all is the power play. I know the sample size is small on this one. The Stealth were the absolute worst team in the league on both sides of the power play coming into the game. But Saturday night they were much better.
Often times when a team is struggling in a certain area of the game, all the players have to do is fix it on one night and it will continue to get better.
Saturday the Stealth took advantage of the power play. They scored goals. They stopped the Mammoth on many of their power plays. They even scored a shorthanded goal - their first of the season. Coming into the game the Stealth had given up six shorthanded goals without one of their own. Colorado didn't score a shorthanded goal on Saturday.
Washington has to prove that the power play can be consistently better, but if it does, and Richards continues to play well, it is scary what this team could accomplish.
Player of the game: Tyler Richards. Who else could it be? Richards gave his team a chance to win and the Stealth took advantage of it.
Offensive Player of the game: Rhys Duch. Duch scored three goals and dished two assists. He took the league goal-scoring lead back from Grant Jr. and is having yet another very productive season.
And a new award just for this week:
Human-highlight reel award: Mitch McMichael. McMichael played more on the offensive side of the ball against Colorado and it paid off. McMichael scored two goals and had one taken away for a crease violation. What was more impressive was that every time McMichael scored, even on the disallowed goal, he did something acrobatic with the ball to beat Colorado goalkeeper Matt Roik. My guess is we will see more of McMichael on offense.
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