PHILADELPHIA — Last week, the Wings did nearly everything head coach/general manager Paul Day asked of them. They started fast, balanced the offense and played disciplined defense anchored by consistent goaltending from Doug Buchan. This was supposed to be the formula to eradicate a winless start to the franchise’s inaugural season.
But, in a fatal shift, Philly instituted these improvements for only 45 minutes, and the final quarter against Toronto turned a glorious would-be victory into yet another disastrous defeat.
Friday’s visit from Rochester (2-3) presents the Wings (0-6) with another chance to piece together 60 minutes of their strongest lacrosse and secure the win that has escaped them for eight weeks. The clash between the eastern division’s bottom two teams — a rematch of the Knighthawks 13-9 win in Rochester on Dec. 29 — will faceoff from the Wells Fargo Center at 8pm ET.
Here are some storylines to watch for on Friday night:
Get healthy on D
A depleted defense was one of the greatest reasons the Wings allowed seven Toronto goals in last week’s fourth quarter. By the time the final period rolled around, Philly was without defensive captain Dylan Evans, as well as Chet Koneczny and Anthony Joaquim. Zac Reid played hurt, and others, such as faceoff expert Trevor Baptiste and offensive weapon Kevin Crowley were forced to contribute on the back end.
Joaquim had been dealing with cramps and is fine now. Evans was held out of the game to nurse an injury that had him about 70 percent. He too should be available this week, Day said. Koneczny is week-to-week while Reid should be a gametime decision. And to reduce the strain on the rest of the squad, Philadelphia planned to hold an abbreviated practice and shootaround this week.
With its legs back under it, the Wings defense on Friday will be tasked with stopping a Rochester offense that Day described as “dynamic.” The Knighthawks scored 18 goals last week against Buffalo, with Austin Shanks accounting for seven alone. Cody Jamieson notched five assists. Nine different players scored and 14 contributed at least one point.
To Philadelphia’s advantage, Day is familiar with much of Rochester’s personnel. Roughly half the team plays for the MSL’s Peterborough Lakers, where Day is the GM. The lacrosse connections between Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen and Day go back to the 1990s. And, prior to joining the Wings, Day spent years on the Knighthawks’ bench as a coach.
“I think I know them inside and out,” Day said. “…I kind of know some tendencies. It might help. It didn’t December 29, but we’re hoping it helps a little more this week.”
Hot and cold
Two of the Wings’ most impactful players, forwards Kevin Crowley and Kiel Matisz, bring a hot stick into Friday night’s game. Crowley tallied a whopping 10 points (four goals, 10 assists) last week and now has 19 points in three games since being acquired from New England. Matisz leads the team with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists)
But largely absent from the stat sheet in recent weeks has been rookie forward Chris Cloutier. The Wings’ second-overall pick in last year’s entry draft hasn’t scored in any of the last three games. The drought follows a strong debut in which Cloutier racked up seven goals in the season’s first three games.
Earlier this month, Cloutier admitted the speed at this level is an adjustment. Day, though, is encouraged by what he’s seen from Cloutier beyond the stats.
“The pro game is a different game,” Day said. “Confidence is always an issue for guys coming out of college. The interesting thing in the last three games is he’s really worked on the little things we need him to work on. He’s been a scorer everywhere he went. He’s always scored goals. He will score goals. We gotta work on getting his confidence back up, but the little things we need him to do — getting off the floor in a timely manner, not shooting the ball from bad angles, stopping transition — he’s done those really well.”
Losing is never fun, and the looks on the Wings players’ faces during post-loss press conferences illustrates that truth. But the attitude around the team has not waned as their winless stretch has endured. Players still bounce off the boards at practice. Tangible improvements are sought each week.
“I’ve been in NLL locker rooms since 1991, and obviously other leagues, and this is a pretty special group of people,” Day said. “They know that in there. When you have seven or eight rookies in the lineup every night, it can be challenging, for sure. But the work ethic and the culture in that room is one of the best I’ve ever been around anywhere.”
Four of the Wings’ six losses have been by two goals or fewer. The hope now is that Philadelphia’s positive approach translates into a close win on Friday.