February 5, 2010

Stealth Mode: Washington Sits Atop NLL Ranks

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

It's been nothing but good times in Everett, Wash., where the Stealth is off to a 5-0 start, tops in the NLL.

Riding atop the National Lacrosse League at 5-0, Washington could remain in that undefeated sphere for at least a few more weeks. The Stealth hosts to cellar dweller Swarm Friday night, then travels to Minnesota for a rematch Feb. 13. Its next major test is a Feb. 19 home game against Calgary.

The league's lone undefeated team not only leads the NLL in scoring with 73 goals, but the relocated Everett, Wash.-based team also boasts the best penalty-killing unit in the league.

In a 12-11 victory over Colorado last Saturday in Denver, Washington stopped the Mammoth on all five power-play chances.

Washington's penalty killers, who sometimes prevented the Mammoth from putting any kind of shot on goal, were adept at limiting the shots that were taken, often to one per 30-second shot clock span.

"They showed why they've got the league's best penalty killing," said veteran Mammoth forward Brian Langtry. "They're gonna pack it in tight and make you take shots from the outside. And they have a really good goalie. What can I say?"

Tyler Richards, Washington's goalie, ranks sixth in the league with a 10.40 goals against average and a .778 save percentage.

Coach Chris Hall's squad also proved stringy in even-strength situations. In the first quarter, the Mammoth's fleet transition players and long, accurate outlet passes by goalie Andrew Leyshon combined to create a myriad of prime scoring opportunities, yet repeatedly the Stealth snuffed them with quick recoveries.

When Washington traded superstar Colin Doyle back to Toronto on the eve of the season, Dec. 15, the Stealth lost one of the league's top three playmakers, but gained underrated forward Lewis Ratcliff, along with Tyler Codron and Joel Dalgarno.

Codron , who moonlights as a Canadian college football player, is sidelined by a gridiron injury. Dalgarno, the all-time scoring leader at Ohio State and seventh overall pick in the 2009 entry draft, is viewed as a rising star but has had difficulty cracking a talented lineup. So far, the left-handed forward has made one appearance, making three assists in a win over Calgary.

Ratcliff, the key to the trade, as if on cue, leads the league with 14 goals, including eight in the past two games.

Hall's willingness to part with Doyle stemmed from his confidence in Ratcliff and his belief in the talents and depth of his returning offense, including Jeff Zywicki and 2009 NLL Rookie of the Year Rhys Duch.

Zywicki, who assisted or scored on all five goals in the second quarter against Colorado and finished with three goals and six assists, leads the NLL with 35 points.

Duch has scored eight goals and leads the Stealth with 17 assists. Cam Sedgwick has matching totals of 10 goals and 10 assists. Second-year transition player Paul Rabil has three goals and 13 assists in four games, and Luke Wiles, who also missed a game, has scored nine times with four assists.

Another factor for Washington and a key element in the victory over Colorado is faceoff strength. Jamison Koesterer went 18-for-26 primarily against the Mammoth's Brad Richardson to improve his league-leading ledger to 63 percent (90-for-142).

The win at Colorado was minus Rabil and defensive all-star Eric Martin, both of whom had commitments with the United States national field team.

"They had two guys missing, but they still have plenty of all-stars on that team, so it is going to take a good effort to beat them," said Langtry.

Goalie Moves

Defending NLL champion Calgary, determined to make changes after a 1-3 start, traded for Boston backup goalie Mike Poulin on Tuesday in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2011 entry draft. Poulin will replace Chris Levis, whom the Roughnecks traded to Colorado on Tuesday.

Poulin is expected to push Matt King for playing time.

King excelled down the regular-season stretch and in the playoffs en route to the Champion's Cup last spring for Calgary. Currently, he owns a .707 save percentage and 12.32 goals against average.

Poulin played scant minutes behind Boston star Anthony Cosmo. In 71 minutes this season, he posted a .746 save percentage and 13.54 goals against average.

For Levis, it marks a return to Denver.

The former Mammoth netminder, part of Colorado's 2006 Champion's Cup team, will vie with Andrew Leyshon for playing time on a squad that allows 13.6 goals per game, the most in the league.

Levis boosts goalie depth in the absence of veteran Curtis Palidwor, who suffered an eye injury when he was hit in the face with the ball on Jan. 9 in Colorado's season opener at Washington. Palidwor underwent eye surgery and remains sidelined.

In another injury blow on the defensive end, Mammoth team captain and defenseman John Gallant broke his hand against the Stealth and is expected to miss at least five weeks.

The Mammoth is 0-2 at home this season and 4-6 over the past two seasons. In contrast, Colorado was 37-11 in its first six seasons at the Pepsi Center.

Mighty Max

Max Seibald finally signed an NLL contract. Seibald signed with Philadelphia on Tuesday and was immediately placed on the active roster.

The 2009 Tewaarton Trophy winner from Cornell was traded to the Wings by Boston on Jan. 25, in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2010 entry draft and future considerations to Boston.

Seibald was selected No. 8 overall in the 2009 draft, the only American chosen in the first round. He must adapt to the indoor game.

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