The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks (1-3) earned their first win of the 2013 NLL season and avenged their season-opening loss by defeating the Washington Stealth (3-3) in a defensive battle by a score of 7-6 on Saturday night at The Blue Cross Arena.
The seven goals by the Knighthawks tied the all-time record for fewest goals scored by a winning team in NLL history.
“It was a tight one,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “It was a good team win tonight. Everybody battled and everybody was better.”
Goaltender Matt Vinc, who earned the NLL’s Defensive Player of the Week after the Week #1 loss in Washington, guided the Knighthawks to a defensive win over his counterpart Tyler Richards. Vinc finished with 42 saves on 48 shots, while Richards denied 48 of 55 shots.
“[Vinc] is obviously one of the best in the league for a reason,” Knighthawks defenseman Paul Dawson said. “Tonight, when stuff got broken down, he was there to make the save. It just gives us a little more confidence to even press out a little further and not play tense and play a little looser. [Vinc] deserves full credit for the win tonight.”
The Stealth have now lost two in a row, both by a single goal. According to their head coach Chris Hall, poor special teams played a major role in the loss, as he noted that the Stealth have now allowed six shorthanded goals without scoring one themselves this season.
“I think those games come down to the execution of special teams, and their special teams beat us,” Hall said. “Their power play, they were 2-for-4 and we were 1-for-3 and we gave up a shorthanded goal. Our power play hasn’t been too efficient and it’s still not.”
Rochester’s shorthanded goal opened the scoring 6:18 in the first quarter. Vinc fired a pass the length of the floor and found Brad Self for the breakaway goal. Self has opened the season on a four-game scoring streak, and for the second consecutive week, netted a goal while down a man.
Stealth forward Lewis Ratcliff tied the game 32 seconds later with a power-play goal, as he and defenseman Mike Grimes lead the Stealth with two goals apiece.
“You’re not going to win too many games with only six goals,” Ratcliff said. “We got to put the ball in the net a little better. [Vinc] played really well, but we didn’t shot the ball very well.
“I think we were making poor shot choices. We were buying into shooting where [Vinc] wanted us to shoot. We weren’t mixing it up. We had open shots, but were just putting them where he was. I think if we shoot a little better, we probably score nine or 10 and have a chance to win the game.”
Tied at 2-2 in the second, Rochester’s Stephen Keogh dived into the crease to take the lead before Cody Jamieson scored a power-play goal at 8:13, but the remainder of the first half was scoreless as both netminders stood on their heads.
The Stealth roared back from a three-goal deficit in the second half to tie the game as Rhys Duch and Athan Iannucci both scored once in the third quarter. Following another goal from Jamieson with the man-advantage, Ratcliff and Grimes scored one-minute apart early in the fourth to knot the game at 6-6.
Johnny Powless and Joe Walters used some well-executed two-man game on the right-wing side of the floor to get behind Washington defender Tim Henderson, allowing Powless to bury the game-winner for the Knighthawks.
“It wasn’t pretty by any means, but to say it was a relief would be an understatement,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson.” Dawson was tied for the team lead with three points, all helpers. Cory Vitarelli scored one goal and added two assists.
Despite the win and improved defense, the scoring woes continue for Rochester.
“It’s something we’ve got to address,” Dan Dawson said. “Without overanalyzing, it comes down to execution – just burying your chances. I know I had five good chances in alone on net that I didn’t bury.”
A busy weekend ahead for the defending champions as they visit Philadelphia for an 11 a.m. ET game on Friday, Feb. 8 before their 7:30 p.m. ET contest in Buffalo against the Bandits the following night.
“We’ve got a short week,” Dan Dawson said. “Monday, we’re going to hit up a big workout and Tuesday, we’re going to practice. We’re going to ride this [victory] on out and keep believing in the dressing room we have.”
The Stealth return home to take on the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 10 p.m. ET.