(Photo: Richard Olson, nll.com)
The Edmonton Rush and Washington Stealth had the two worst regular season records in the NLL West last season, with the Stealth missing the playoffs. Edmonton, on the other hand, got white-hot in the postseason and went all the way to the finals, coming up just short against Rochester.
This year the Stealth are off to a 2-0 start and are looking like a team on a mission. The Rush have only played once, but dropped that game to Toronto last weekend.
Four Edmonton players earned five points each in their home opener, including Corey Small, Ryan Ward, Curtis Knight and rookie phenom Mark Matthews. All four will be called upon to equal or better that performance this weekend.
Aaron Bold had a solid night in net, stopping 34 of 44 shots.
Washington's standout thus far has been the play of Cliff Smith. In two previous seasons, the most production Smith has ever managed was 20 points playing for the Mammoth in 2010. This season he already has a league-leading 15 points in just two games.
Rookie Kyle Buchanan has been lighting it up as well, notching nine points so far.
With Smith and Buchanan emerging as serious threats, Washington now has five shooters to worry about. Rhys Duch (10 points), Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci (seven points each) can all fill up the net, so they'll put tremendous pressure on the Rush's vaunted defense.
Tyler Richards (12.04 goals against) and Nick Patterson (12.96 goals against) have split the goaltending duties thus far, both earning a win.
Faceoff savant Bob Snider is so far running away with the league lead in loose balls, having collected 30 already.
At this point in the season, Washington is looking very good. If there is a team out there that has a shot at cooling off their offense, it's probably Edmonton. But I don't think it'll happen just yet. Call it a 12-10 Stealth victory.
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