EVERETT — Two of the hottest teams in the National Lacrosse League right now are on a collision course.
The Washington Stealth (6-4) are winners of two straight and owners of first place in the NLL’s West Division. The Philadelphia Wings (5-3) have won three straight games to move into second place in the East Division. The two teams meet at 5 p.m. today at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“Philly might be the hottest team in the league right now,” Stealth assistant coach Dan Perreault said in the NLL’s weekly coaches conference call. “They are a big strong athletic team and they run well. We’ve got the long flight and when we arrive we have to be ready to go and when we hit that floor we have to be running — because we know they can run.”
The Wings hope to take advantage of Washington’s long cross-country flight and use forward Kevin Crowley’s familiarity with Stealth goalkeeper Tyler Richards to keep alive their success against Washington. The Stealth have had trouble with the Wings dating back to 2000 and have managed just three victories in 12 games against Philadelphia since then.
“I noticed that Tyler has been playing great,” Crowley said. “I play with him in summer ball so hopefully I have the scout on him this coming week and I can share it with my teammates. (The Stealth) are coming off a couple of big wins and they are playing well right now — and so are we. We just can’t afford to get down in the first quarter like we have in the first games and have to crawl our way back. So, our goal is really to come out hot. They have a long flight so hopefully we can get the jump on them early and build on that.”
The Stealth’s defense has to find a way to slow down Crowley, the league’s No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012. He leads the Wings with 39 points (15 goals and 24 assists) but is yet to have what he calls “a breakout game” — like he had a year ago against the Stealth when he scored five goals, including the overtime game-winner in a 10-9 Wings’ victory.
Crowley will have to solve the Stealth’s young defense and Richards, who is perhaps the hottest goalkeeper in the NLL right now. Richards has improved his save percentage to .807 and is tied for the league lead with Rochester goalkeeper Matt Vinc.
Stealth forward Athan Iannucci spent much of his career with the Philadelphia Wings. He had his best season in the NLL for Philadelphia in 2008 when he scored a league-record 71 goals on his way to winning the Most Valuable Player award. Tonight’s game marks the first time that Iannucci has faced his former team since leaving Philadelphia.
Iannucci has been one of the Stealth’s most effective offensive options recently, scoring four goals in a victory over Calgary and again in last weekend’s win over Minnesota. He and the rest of the Stealth offense “are finally starting to find our groove out there,” forward Brett Bucktooth said.
“We’re communicating a lot better. Talking more on and off the floor and building chemistry with each game,” Bucktooth said. “Each shift, everyone is getting their shots and we are all working for each other which is the most important thing.”
Tonight’s game gives the Stealth their first look at a familiar face — Paul Rabil. The transition player competes against Washington for the first time since the team dealt to Edmonton for Iannucci in February of 2012. Rabil never reported to Edmonton and was traded to Rochester in the offseason. He never played for the Knighthawks either, who traded him before the season to the Wings.
Rabil has nine goals and 10 assists so far this season for the Wings.
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.