By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — After being the only team in the nine-team National Lacrosse League to miss the postseason and finishing 4-12 in 2012, it would be easy to look at the Washington Stealth’s 4-4 record midway through the 2013 season and call it a success.
But it isn’t that type of thinking that helped the Stealth win the 2010 NLL championship and reach back-to-back championship games in 2010 and 2011.
“Statistically we are probably below expectations,” Stealth defenseman and team captain Kyle Sorensen said. “We let a few games slip away. The two Edmonton games the effort wasn’t there. It’s the games that we don’t play 60 minutes that we seem to be losing. To say that we are meeting expectations, I don’t think that is good enough. Expectations, in my mind, we would be 8-0 right now.”
A perfect record halfway through the season might be wishful thinking, especially since the Stealth are consistently dressing six rookies for every game. With so many new young players on the roster, .500 with a shot at first place tonight when the Stealth host Calgary isn’t that bad.
“I think if you talked to me before the season and said, ‘Would you be satisfied at the halfway point if you were 4-4?’ Well, I’m never really satisfied with … mediocrity,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “Then I reflect back to where we were last year at this time and certainly it’s an improvement. We are at a much healthier position at this point in the schedule this year than we were last year.”
Of the Stealth’s six rookies, all of whom have played well, four are on defense, and it has been the defense and goalkeeping of veteran Tyler Richards that have carried the team at times this season.
“We are very happy with the progression of our young defenders and how they are integrating with our older veterans,” Stealth general manager Doug Locker said. “That’s certainly ahead of where we thought it might be at this point.”
The offense has been successful at times, but it’s been too inconsistent through eight games, Hall said.
With the “Big Three” of Rhys Duch, Athan Iannucci and Lewis Ratcliff, along with players such as Cliff Smith, Dean Hill and Brett Bucktooth, the Stealth have one of the deepest offenses in the NLL. At times they have looked like it, putting up 12 goals or more in five of their eight games. In the other three games, they have scored 10 twice and just six in a road loss to Rochester.
“I’m not happy with the way our offense is performing,” Hall said. “We need to be better up there.”
Hall said shooting percentages have to improve in the second half of the season and the offense needs to be more consistent. Duch is second in the league in goals with 22, but Ratcliff and Iannucci have struggled with 15 and 12 goals, respectively.
Smith got off to a fast start for Washington with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in his first two games, but cooled off over the next six with just four goals and 10 assists.
Turnovers also have been a problem for the Stealth, with 247 in eight games — 12 more than any other team in the league.
In addition to their offensive struggles, both sides of the power play have been a challenge for the Stealth. Washington is converting 48.5 percent of its power plays to rank sixth out of the NLL’s nine teams. It is stopping just 40 percent of its opponents’ power plays, next to last in the league. As hard as it is to believe, those numbers are an improvement from where they were just two weeks ago when the Stealth were last in both categories.
Hall said the power play is correctable through practice and by identifying on film where the team is making its mistakes.
“I don’t think it’s easy to fix,” Hall said. “Nothing is ever easy to fix. I think it is easily identifiable and correctable through practice and observation.”
It wasn’t hard for Hall to identify the inconsistencies on offense and the power play as the biggest problems the Stealth faced in the first half of the season. But will there be any significant roster moves to help improve them?
“If I were completely happy with the roster, we would be 8-0,” he said. “I think there is simply no answer to that question. Am I happy with the personnel that we have? Yeah, compared to other teams in the league I’ve got to say I’m pretty happy with our roster. But at the same time — two things — everybody has to perform well and you are always hoping that you are improving. So if we aren’t playing well, we are always examining the roster to see, can we make it better or can we find a better mix internally?”
Because of the parity in the NLL, any of the eight teams that make the playoffs can win a championship. There was perhaps no better example of that than a year ago when Rochester played Edmonton in the championship game despite the fact both teams finished the regular season with sub-.500 records.
“Anyone can win here,” Hall said, “including us.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.