By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
Every time the Washington Stealth have got themselves into trouble this season it seems they only have themselves to blame.
Saturday night was just another example of that fact.
The Stealth fell 15-10 to the Buffalo Bandits at Comcast Arena. The win ended a six-game losing streak for the Bandits and for the Stealth, it was a failed opportunity to clinch a home playoff game.
Because of Rochester’s victory over Calgary earlier in the evening, the Stealth only needed to win to clinch a playoff game at home, and at least for a day, first place in the National Lacrosse League’s West division. But despite a inspired crowd of 3,442, the Stealth let the Bandits score eight goals in the fourth quarter to turn what was a one-goal game after three quarters into a blowout.
The Stealth only have themselves to blame. The defense and goalkeeping wasn’t sharp as it had been over the past month and a half and the offense couldn’t get anything going outside of Rhys Duch and Dean Hill. Duch scored four goals and Hill had three. The Stealth only managed three goals outside of that and two of them belonged to defensemen.
Head coach Chris Hall said after the game, “10 goals is not enough.”
Not only was it not enough, but the Stealth had zero balance on the offensive end.
The Stealth have already qualified for the postseason, but the offense could be problematic for them. The only real consistent threat this season has been Duch, who leads the NLL with 41 goals. Forwards Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci have been effective but inconsistent. Forward Cliff Smith started out the season red hot, but is about as cold as it is outside currently. Forwards Brett Bucktooth and Dean Hill have also been effective at times, though those players are looked to more as role players and in that sense have done a nice job.
Iannucci has been scratched the past two weeks and it is unknown if he will return to the lineup in the team’s regular-season finale against Philadelphia next weekend.
Even with the Stealth missing out on a golden opportunity, all is not lost. Washington can still clinch a home playoff game simply by winning next week against the Wings. They also remain alive for the division championship. If Rochester beats Edmonton later today and Calgary beats the Rush next Saturday and the Stealth beat the Wings, Washington wins the West division.
But the reality is, the Stealth shouldn’t need help. They have spent the most weeks in first place of any team in the West and have had numerous chances to control their own fate.
Duch said the Stealth have to come with the same intensity every game. He appeared to have a point — the Bandits looked like they wanted it more than the Stealth. With only one game to play until it becomes win or go home, that attitude has to change or it could be an early exit from the postseason for the Stealth.
Saturday’s game awards:
Player of the game: Mark Steenhuis, Steenhuis scored two goals and dished five assists to lead the Bandits balanced offensive attack.
Stealth player of the game: Dean Hill, I was tempted to give it to Duch, but Hill got the Stealth on the board early and was very active all game long.
The difference-maker: Mike Hominuck, Hominuck scored two goals late in the game, including a behind the back goal that helped turn the game from close into a blowout.
Grit award: Bob Snider, Snider won 17 of his 29 faceoffs for Washington and also led the team with nine loose balls. Possession is key in the NLL and Snider almost always provides it for the Stealth.