EVERETT — The Washington Stealth have dropped three of their past four National Lacrosse League games to fall to 4-4 on the season.
Still, when they face the Calgary Roughnecks tonight at Comcast Arena, first place in the NLL’s West Division will be on the line.
A victory for Calgary would give the Roughnecks a two-game lead over the Stealth and a one-game advantage in the head-to-head, regular-season tiebreaker. A win for Washington would move the Stealth into a tie with Calgary and, at least for the moment, give them first place by nature of having a one-game edge in the tiebreaker.
Two weeks ago the Stealth played their most complete game of the season in a 13-7 victory over Colorado, only to turn around and suffer a 15-10 loss on the road to the Edmonton Rush last Saturday. Two of the Stealth’s four losses this season have come at the hands of the Rush.
Washington also defeated Edmonton 12-10 on Jan. 25.
The difficulties the Stealth have had against the Rush are indicative of the struggles they have had in their recent slump. Other than forward Rhys Duch (22 goals, 19 assists), they have struggled to get consistent play from their offense. In last weekend’s loss to Edmonton, the Stealth finished with more turnovers (42) than shots (35).
Adding to their problems was their inability to stop rookie forward Mark Matthews, who recorded his first career sock trick, finishing with six goals and one assist.
“I thought we did a decent job on him in the game we won there,” Hall said. “In the other two, we kind of let him run free. That was a bit disappointing too because it’s not as if he brings any great surprises. He’s a talented lacrosse player and great lacrosse players are going to get their points. But we really need to try to prevent those players from having those type of nights and twice we gave up big nights to him.”
Calgary may not have a player as explosive as Matthews, but the Roughnecks do have one of the most balanced offenses in the league. The Stealth will have their hands full with NLL points leader Shawn Evans (18 goals, 36 assists) and his teammates Dane Dobbie (20 goals, 14 assists) and Jeff Shattler (13 goals, 21 assists).
“They are a difficult team to sort of focus attention on any one or two players,” Hall said. “They probably have the most firepower, or close to it, of any offense in the league. … We have to really focus and play team defense this weekend.”
That defensive effort should get a boost from the return of defensemen Jeff Moleski and Bill Hostrawser. Both have been sidelined with injuries.
After starting the season 2-0, the Stealth have fallen to .500 and Hall said it’s time to stop the skid.
“I think we have to have an elevated sense of urgency,” he said. “We have lost three of our last four and it’s time to start winning some lacrosse games again. We are back in our home rink and we need to try to take advantage of that.”
When Stealth transition Bob Snider lines up for tonight’s faceoff, he’ll be going up against a familiar opponent: His older brother Geoff.
Geoff, who has a reputation as one of the best faceoff men of all time, leads the NLL in faceoff percentage this season, winning 78.6 percent of the time. Bob is second at 67.1 percent.
Thanks to Bob Snider, the Stealth are used to winning a majority of their faceoffs, but tonight could be a different story.
“We expect that Bobby is going to give Geoff a battle in the faceoff circle,” Hall said. “I think against Geoff Snider you’ve got to hope that you can get close to 50 percent. You are doing an awfully good job (if you do).”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.