For much of the first half of the game, the Vancouver Stealth competed with New England in a high-intensity game with a lot of back and forth between the two defenses. Goalies Eric Penney and Evan Kirk were both solid in the first quarter—Garrett Billings scored a rocket top corner on the power play, Rhys Duch found Joel McCready who slipped a pick and got over top of Evan Kirk and Corey Small caught Kirk by surprise with a bounce shot on the run. But as the game wore on, Kirk took over while Penney seemed overwhelmed by a third quarter run that blew a 9-7 game wide open.
It’s concerning that there wasn’t a lot of push back from Vancouver after Chris Levis came in. The Black Wolves scored the final eight goals of the game, but more noteworthy is the Stealth scoring just one goal in the second half. Old habits are hard to kick, but it has to be sooner rather than later if Vancouver wants to make a postseason push.
Billings had high expectations coming into the season and certainly looked up to par with a five-point night (one goal, four assists). But he and Rhys Duch didn’t look in sync during much of Saturday’s loss. Billings had the ball too much for too long on too many offensive possessions. I’m also not a big fan of all the behind-the-back passing from him—the Stealth had a large part of a pivotal four-minute second quarter power play chewed up after an errant pass.
Duch seemed a little uncomfortable without the rock as much and was more or less just a guy for the Stealth. When Billings vacated space on the right side, Duch had room to operate the two-man game with McCready and had four or five quality scoring chances from the top of the 24 foot.
Coach Dan Perrault felt that the entire offense didn’t get enough movement or cutters and challenged his team to be a lot better next week in Saskatchewan.
McCready continued to prove his worth on Saturday. He had a fantastic goal called back in the third quarter that would have made the game 7-5 when his hand touched in the crease before the ball hit twine. But the way he bullied himself in tight, made a quick, athletic move and got the ball into the net speaks to how important he is to this Stealth team. He was one of the only players getting consistent movement on that end of the floor.
Not the best start for Logan Schuss. He struggled at times when the New England defense were physical and highly aggressive. They basically dared the Stealth to beat them with motion and movement. Not as if Schuss wasn’t noticeable out there—he had some great loose ball battles, found some strong shooting opportunities and was real physical. He will continue to develop his inside game, but he might need to become more of a factor for teams to game plan for in order to get good opportunities to shoot from the outside.
There will be some questioning whether Penney is going to get the job done through an entire season for the Stealth. It didn’t look like it on Saturday. Penney allowed 12 goals on 33 shots for a .633 save percentage and routinely got beat low stick side.
Look, this is going to be the Stealth’s hill to die on. Whether there were opportunities to acquire a top-flight goaltender or not, Vancouver made it clear Penney was their guy and his development with New West over the summer is encouraging. But the WLA isn’t the NLL and the shot quality is that much higher. They didn’t name Chris Levis the backup out of training camp because he was significantly better than the other options. He’s the second-oldest player in the league and is in a mentor role that is only going to work if Penney keeps his confidence long enough for the Stealth to put together a win streak. Otherwise, what was the point of bringing him in over Cody Hagedorn?
If Vancouver wants to compete in this league, they need Penney to show up for these games. They aren’t winning every game 19-18. And if it doesn’t happen, there was a huge miscalculation of talent along the way.
The back end should take some of the criticism Penney has got as they didn’t always play as a cohesive unit. This should be expected given the high amount of turnover in that end of the floor, but it definitely got better as the game went on.
One of the things I noticed was how frequently the top guy followed an offensive player coming down to set a pick or cut the middle. It left voids at the shooter positions and it’s hard for that bottom defender to cover that much ground and make a play on the ball. It happened a few times to Chris O’Dougherty and Jeff Moleski along the way, particularly on New England’s sixth goal.
It’s not concerning, but I think it’s worthwhile to note we should’ve seen more Jarrett Toll and Travis Cornwall in the transition game. Cornwall had his first as a Stealth on the fastbreak, albeit off an errant pass and Toll was decisive with his ball movement.
There has to be a more efficient option than having Ian Hawksbee up in the offensive zone so often. Getting Matt Beers back will help alleviate some of that and Brier Jonathan looked like he gained confidence as the game went on.
The transition game was sloppy both ways for Vancouver, and New England’s transition game was evidently superior. Guys still take too long to come to the bench to initiate a change and it’s too pedestrian going up the floor. That lazy play really hurt them when the floodgates opened with fast break chances all over the floor. Outlets just not turning back to the ball, players getting behind the defense and getting fed a sloppy pass that results in a turnover. The Stealth aren’t good enough as is to be making these turnovers, but it only makes the situation more difficult.
As well, the Stealth forced too many turnovers in the neutral zone (to steal a hockey term here) and need to be better at getting the rock up the floor to maximize offensive zone time.
Speaking of Jonathan, I didn’t mind what I saw in limited action from him. He’s a rookie, but he had a nice training camp and brings a good skillset to the backend. These are the types of players you’re not supposed to notice, and he didn’t make any glaring errors that did make him noticeable.
Big fan of Tyler Garrison and he was a force this weekend. I’d like to see what he brings offensively a bit more. He’s not Tyler Digby, but he’s similar as to what he can do physically and might provide some worth as an off-ball player for Duch and Billings. He and Cornwall looked great in transition, with Garrison scoring a beauty just before the end of the first half, taking a shot to make the play.