The last time the Wings and Black Wolves met in the Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia was at the high point of its season. A convincing 14-10 win on Saturday night had made playoff contention a very real thing. A rematch was one sleep away. But instead of using Sunday’s second half of a home-and-home to further close the gap in the standings, the Wings played maybe their worst game of the season and washed out any progress made the night before. They had two weeks off to ponder a 17-11 loss, returned from the double-bye for an equally disappointing overtime defeat against Buffalo and last week blew yet another fourth-quarter lead in San Diego.
The Wings (2-10) will look to halt that brutal stretch when they host New England (7-5) this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. It’s a rivalry matchup with significant implications: the Black Wolves can lock up a playoff spot with a win and a Knighthawks loss to Calgary. The Wings can keep their distant postseason hopes alive with a win.
Those things, however, are not what the Wings want on their mind.
“It can’t be about wins and losses at this point,” assistant coach Tracey Kelusky said this week. “It’s gotta be about process. Sticking with the process and sticking to what has afforded us the opportunity to have some success in games, be close in games and quite frankly be winning down the stretch of games.”
Staying in that mindset, here are some players to watch on Saturday the Wings would like to see more involved in that process moving forward.
The rookie transition player has won 225 faceoffs this season. The next highest win total of any player in the NLL is 184. Baptiste is good enough — elite, one might say — at the midfield dot that he’ll be an asset for years to come. His toughness and knack for coming away with loose balls — Baptiste’s 104 scoops ranks fifth in the league — is a plus, too.
But for the Wings to maximize the usage of their second-round pick, Baptise will have to expand his game.
“One of the things we want to continue with working with trevor on is his ability to play defense and be stalwart back there,” Kelusky said. “One of the things that has hindered our success in the fourth quarter was that we’re losing a couple defenders, whether it be injury — one guy has gone down with fatigue so now we’re stuck playing eight defenders.”
Look for the Wings to test Baptiste with more defensive assignments during the next few weeks. The experience should help him improve now and identify what developments he’ll aim to make during the summer.
The Wings received a draft pick and defenseman Ryan Wagner in the trade that saw Chris Cloutier sent to Buffalo earlier this season. But what didn’t appear in the summary of that transaction was the spot opened up in Philly’s offensive rotation now occupied by Justin Guterding.
The Wings signed Guterding off their practice squad after the deal, and the third-round pick in last year’s entry draft notched three assists in his debut against New England. He scored in each of the last two games and is up to seven points in three games. Despite being Division I’s all-time leading scoring with 212 goals at Duke, Guterding understood and appreciated his path to playing time in the NLL.
“If I had been thrown out there,” Guterding said last month, “I think it would have been even more disheartening because I don’t think I would have played very well and I probably would have gotten down on myself. Now I’m a little more confident out on the floor with the guys.”
It will be worth monitoring how significant of a role in the offense Guterding can claim heading into the offseason.
Wherever Rambo has played, he has been one of the best players at that level. He dominated at La Salle College High School in the Philadelphia suburbs. He won the Tewaaraton Award at Maryland. All season, the Wings have encouraged him to be that player and not try to conform to the box game.
Rambo has had his moments, including a hat trick at home against the Black Wolves and a six-point effort in New England. But five forwards on the roster have more points than Rambo, and he’s been held to one or zero points four times this season.
“Are we happy with him? Absolutely,” Kelusky said. “Do I think he has something more to offer? 100 percent.”
Rambo’s combination of skill, popularity and local roots make him the team’s most marketable player. He’s not going anywhere. But it would be a huge boost to the Wings’ process if he could start to resemble the player who’s been among the best at every tier of the sport.
David DiRuscio was placed on the physically unable to perform list, so the Wings signed Gowah Abrams on Thursday to take over backup goalie duties. Abrams, 24, has spent time with both Buffalo and Rochester in recent seasons. Still expect Doug Buchan to see the majority — if not all — of the minutes in net moving forward.
Saturday’s 7 p .m. ET Wings-Black Wolves matchup can be seen streamed everywhere via B/R Live.