The Washington Stealth (5-4) host the Minnesota Swarm (3-5) at Comcast Arena on Sunday at 6pm ET. (Photo: Scott Pierson)
After reclaiming the top spot in the West Division last weekend, the Washington Stealth (5-4) host the Minnesota Swarm (3-5), coming off a weekend home-and-home split, at Comcast Arena on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
“It’s certainly a lot better position than we were in last year,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall, referring to their league-worst 4-12 record in 2012. “We’re still battling a little bit of consistency issues in terms of putting a string of wins together. I think we’ve got ourselves in a healthy position. It’s in our hands now to continue to play well and stay at the top. It’s important to us looking down the line in terms of playoffs and home playoff dates.”
With a 5-4 record, Washington is tied with the Calgary Roughnecks but currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker after last weekend's win. This weekend, the Stealth have a tough test against the Swarm, who hold a 10-4 all-time record against Washington.
While the Stealth currently sit one game above .500, they have struggled to string wins together and have not won consecutive games since the first two weeks of the season.
“We’ve gotten away from our gameplan in a few different games," said Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards. “The last game against Edmonton and the game against Minnesota, we weren’t very responsible with the ball and it’s led to our demise in both the games.”
Last weekend, the Stealth rode one of their better offensive performances of the season to victory against the Roughnecks, led in part by forward Rhys Duch, who matched his career high with 10 points (3+7) and was named the Offensive Player of the Week.
Through eight weeks, Duch is tied for the league-lead with 25 goals and is second in points with 51 (25+26).
“Duch is a marquee player in this league,” Hall said. “There were times when some of our players struggled offensively but Duch has been our most consistent player on offense and he has scored some big goals for us.”
Athan Iannucci scored a season-high four goals for the Stealth and the team also got multi-goal performances from forwards Brett Bucktooth and Cliff Smith.
The Stealth defense will face a unique Minnesota offense that relies more heavily on their transition game than most teams as 44 of the team's 99 goals this season came from its core of transition players.
This will be a key game for the Stealth as they will need to win both remaining games against the Swarm this season to hold the playoff tiebreaker. A Minnesota win on Sunday would guarantee the Swarm at least two-out-of-three victories in their season series against the Stealth.
“It’s about sticking to what our coaches have laid out for us, really believing in it and following it,” Richards said. “The rest will take care of itself from there.”
Minnesota expects a tough game from Washington as both teams vie for position in the standings.
“They’re obviously playing really well right now,” said Swarm forward Callum Crawford. “They came off a huge win last weekend, so they’re going to be riding high. They’re a great team. They’re really well-coached and they have some great players on that team.”
Minnesota defeated the Stealth 15-14 in their Jan. 26 matchup in St. Paul. The Swarm beat the Edmonton Rush on the road last Friday before a bizarre home loss to the Rush two days later when they were held scoreless for the first 37 minutes of the game.
“They probably have more players that can play pure offense that are also playing transition than other teams,” Hall said. “So guys like [Kiel] Matisz and [Brock] Sorensen and [Jordan] MacIntosh, they’re all guys that play well out of the back end, can transition the ball extremely well but also are solid threats when they stay out for entire shifts. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”
The Swarm face the challenge without captain Andrew Suitor, who is lost for the season with injuries to his ACL and MCL.
“Nobody’s going to be able to replace an Andrew Suitor,” Crawford said. “But collectively, our team has to step up together and I think we will. We have the right pieces in the room for guys to step up and take on more of a leadership role to really try to keep moving forward and getting better throughout the season.”
The Swarm hope Crawford can carry the bulk of the load.
“There’s a reason we gave (Crawford) the ‘C’,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “He leads in a different way, but he’s a veteran guy that we feel we can lead on now. He’s got his feet underneath him. He’s played great lacrosse and shown great leadership so it was really only a matter of time before we acknowledged that for Callum.”
Crawford played well last weekend in his return from a hamstring injury as he collected 15 points (3+12) in two games.
“I’ve done a good job recovering,” Crawford said. “I felt really good out there last weekend. I’m as close to 100 percent as I think I could be at this point in the season.”
The Swarm goaltender situation remains fluid. Evan Kirk played well in Minnesota’s 13-8 win last Friday in Edmonton, but was pulled in Sunday’s home bout with the Rush in favor of Tyler Carlson after allowing five goals on 11 shots.
“I absolutely love them both,” Sullivan said. “I think they both bring a little bit of a different look. Mr. Carlson played great as a backup and came in and did exactly what you would expect a backup to do and was very professional about the choice we made to go with Evan.
“On the other side of it, I’ve got Evan, who right now needs to get himself focused and the only way sometimes to do that is to play.”