The Philadelphia Wings continued to take steps towards being competitive in 2013. They made the National Lacrosse League playoffs for the second straight year after a run of three seasons without reaching them. They even came oh so close to hitting .500 for the first time since 2008, wrapping up the year with a loss that left them at 7-9. There are still many more steps to be taken, though. The Wings scored a league-low 170 goals while surrendering 207, third-most in the NLL. They beat the champion Knighthawks in Rochester, but lost to Rochester twice by a total of 17 goals. So it goes for a Philly club that is trying to rebuild while everyone else just keeps getting better, too. After the jump, see what went right and what went wrong for the Wings last year.
They had their stretches where it looked like everything was coming together. Philadelphia opened the season with a two-game winning streak and threw together three- and two-game winning streaks later in the year. The problem was, they sandwiched the first two winning streaks around a three-game losing streak, then followed the second stretch of winning with five straight losses. The five-gamer wasn’t one of those streaks where it looks like they’re right on the verge of getting out of it at any time, either. They lost four of those five games by at least 5 goals. Six of their seven wins were by either 1 goal or 2 goals. The numbers make it clear: the 2103 Wings just weren’t as good as most of the teams they were playing.
Kevin Crowley, forced to step up as the undisputed leader of the offence after the trade of Dan Dawson, had a tremendous sophomore season. He posted numbers very similar to his rookie totals, with 34 goals and 38 assists for 72 points. Drew Westervelt, one of the most consistent goal-scorers in the game, put up another 30 on just 149 shots. Of course, he’s now taken his high-percentage shooting to the Colorado Mammoth. That means they’ll need more from guys like Kevin Ross (20 goals last year), Paul Rabil (a career-high 17) and Jordan Hall and Kevin Buchanan (16 each). The good news is that there were times when the ball moved well and shooting lanes opened up. The bad news is that Westervelt was their best player at driving the ball inside.
Defence and Goaltending
On four occasions, the Wings held their opponents to fewer than 10 goals. They won all four of those games. Seven times, they gave up 14 or more goals. Not surprisingly, they won zero of those games. Four goalies faced more shots than the 724 that Brandon Miller saw. The problem wasn’t really the number of shots, but the quality of shots that the Wings surrendered, leading at least in part to Miller’s middle-of-the-pack .768 save percentage. Philly has decided they want to have a primarily American roster, which means they have to live with the errors that will be made by players still adapting to the indoor game. Guys like Mike Manley, CJ Costabile and Brett Manney show great promise and have some excellent games. They also have the breakdowns you’d expect from field-first players who are doing their darnedest to learn how to play defence in the box.
The power play didn’t click the way it needs to. Philadelphia converted just 44.7% of their man advantages, eighth in the nine-team league. Nobody hit double digits in power play goals, with Crowley and Ross leading the way at 9 each. Like the even-strength offence, the power play tended to be too content to settle for outside shots, although it had its moments with some pretty tic tac toe plays that created great scoring chances. The penalty kill was better; it’s 48.1% success rate sat smack dab in the middle, fifth overall and just a tenth of a point behind Colorado in fourth.
The rebuild is moving along solidly, based on the evidence that their leading scorer was a second-year man taken with the first overall draft pick in 2011 and four of their next five leading scorers were new additions last year (Buchanan, Ross, Hall and Rabil). Defenders like last year’s rookies Costabile and Manley, along with the likes of Manney, Steve Holmes, Joel White and Jeff Reynolds, appear to be getting the hang of the game. What the team needs is just more time together, more time for players at both ends of the floor to develop chemistry with the players around them and to gel as a team. The trouble, of course, is that everyone else is getting better, too. So if the Wings just improve a bit, they’ll be standing still or even losing ground to the rest of the league. It’ll be a challenge for new head coach Blane Harrison, but undoubtedly one that he’s eager to tackle.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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