The Washington Stealth (3-3) host the Colorado Mammoth (2-2) on Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET at Comcast Arena in Everett. (Photo: Michael Martin)
The Colorado Mammoth (2-2) and Washington Stealth (3-3), the only two NLL teams with .500 records, will meet for the second time this season on Saturday night, this time at Comcast Arena at 10 p.m. ET in Everett, WA. Watch the game live on the NLL on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
Both teams will certainly look a little different from opening weekend, where Washington stunned an enthusiastic Pepsi Center crowd in Denver with a 17-13 away win. Colorado looks for a stronger effort against them this weekend.
"We lost the first game of the season to Washington and we weren’t our best on both sides of the ball,” said Mammoth forward Jamie Lincoln. “Our goal on our team is always getting better every day; we just need to go out and prove ourselves.”
Colorado clinched their first home win of the season in Week #5 with their 15-9 victory over the Minnesota Swarm in a game where the team finally seemed to be firing on all cylinders, especially on defense, according to Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley.
"We've worked very hard the past few weeks to shore up our defensive end,” he said. “I thought our defense and Matt Roik and Dan Lewis did a good job against Minnesota and we want to carry that momentum into Everett.”
The Stealth meanwhile return to their home floor after being on the losing end of a 7-6 thriller against the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend. Stealth head coach Chris Hall was not disappointed with his team’s effort for the most part, and said that small elements can be the difference between a ‘W’ and an ‘L’.
"Got to be on the right end of the little things, and we were on the wrong end of a couple of them," Hall said. “I was pleased with the way we played on defense and our goaltending was spectacular but both teams struggled on offense.”
According to Stealth defenseman Curtis Hodgson, those little things seemed to be on both sides of the field.
“Last week for us, it was our offense,” Hodgson said. “At the start, we were putting up some big numbers and obviously we struggled a bit to score last game...you’ve got to have everyone playing well in terms of getting goals, good defense and goaltending.”
In net, Tyler Richards played light out in the team’s loss, playing the full game and finishing with 48 saves on 55 shots. Richards finds himself in the top five in the NLL in both saves (157) and goals against average (10.01).
“I think the game in Rochester was the strongest game he’s played this season,” Hall said. “It really was a great performance. Tyler gave us an opportunity to win that game and that’s what you ask from your starting goaltender at all times. He was really quite spectacular and it was unfortunate we didn’t get the reward for him that we wanted.”
Over his career, Richards has played seven games against the Mammoth and has a perfect 7-0 record with a 9.28 GAA and .812 save percentage.
“I think he looks settled,” Hall said. “He’s healthy and looks strong in the net. It’s great to be able to play in front of a guy that you know is going to make a big stop for you.”
On the Mammoth side, Matt Roik also posted an impressive outing between the pipes until a controversial equipment check in the fourth quarter, when Roik was sent off the floor for having an illegal glove, ending his night with a .818 save percentage.
Roik is expected to start against his former team on Saturday, and despite the incident during last weekend's game, it is now in the past said Hamley, who went on to praise the netminder’s play.
"We got a lead which is very beneficial and gave everybody a lot of confidence,” he said. “We talked to Matt [Roik] that it's his job and I think he took it on wholeheartedly and played with confidence, and that calm grew as the game went along. As a defense, when you know that the goaltender is going to make some stops for you, get some possessions, it means a lot.”
On offense, John Grant Jr. stole the show once again last weekend by posting 11 points (5+6) against the Minnesota Swarm, which earned Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season.
“‘Junior’ is ‘Junior,’” Lincoln said. “I think he's still the best player in the world and every time he has the ball, you know what he's capable of, what he's going to do. In my case, I manage to support him. I’m there to get him open and he finds me, whatever the case may be, I just want to capitalize and make my chances count.”
Hall also touched on Grant, Jr.’s world-class talent as his team prepares to try and keep him in check.
"You're not going to keep John off the scoresheet,” he said. “You just hope that you're strong enough and sharp enough to limit the amount of points he gets.”
Forward Rhys Duch was leading the NLL in goals until he was held to just one goal last weekend, but he is still tied for second in the league. Duch will look to rebound against a team that he has had plenty of success against over the years, as he has posted 59 points (31+28) in just 12 career games (4.92 points/game) against the Mammoth. Earlier this year, Duch scored a hat trick to help the Stealth defeat Colorado in their highest offensive output of the season.
Lewis Ratcliff was one of the Stealth’s few bright spots on offense last weekend as he scored two of the team’s six goals. After being held to just five goals in his first three games of the season, Ratcliff has now scored eight goals in three games for a total of 13, which ranks fourth in the NLL. Ratcliff is no stranger to facing off against the Mammoth, as he has recorded 109 points (51+58) in 22 career games against the Colorado.
When these two teams previously met on Jan. 12, former Mammoth forward Cliff Smith led the Stealth to victory with seven points (4+3), which earned him his second-consecutive Offensive Player of the Week award. Smith has not put up those kind of numbers since then, but the former first-round pick has been a steady contributor to the Stealth offense. The fourth-year veteran has already posted a career-high 24 points (9+15) so far in 2013.
With the loss last weekend, the Stealth fell out of first place in the West Division as the Calgary Roughnecks jumped past the Stealth with a 3-2 record. However, Colorado and Washington are just a half game back in the standings.
The Stealth are returning from a three-game road swing where they went 1-2. They hope that the home floor will give them the edge they need to get back on track.
“It’s going to be really nice to come back and play at home,” Hodgson said. “I think we’re comfortable at home. We get treated really well in Washington and get a tremendous amount of fan support from the people in Everett and the surrounding communities.”