Two-straight losses are staring the Bandits in the face. After two strong outings to open the season, the Bandits have dropped two in a row and have shown some different weaknesses during the stretch.
Buffalo gets a chance at redemption against a West Division rival at First Niagara Center this evening. The Bandits host the 2011 NLL runner-up, Washington Stealth. The Stealth are going through their own struggles, they are 0-3 and have averaged just eight goals per game this season.
The East Division standings are far tighter than the West, where Colorado has jumped to a commanding lead. With a Philadelphia loss and a Buffalo win this evening, the Bandits would be tied for the Division lead. Of course, the Wings would be just a half game back of the Bandits and Toronto Rock – who would be tied for first.
Last week’s struggles came on offense and in the discipline department. Buffalo’s penalty kill – which was average against Philly – struggled mightily in Minnesota, surrendering nine power play goals. Their loss to Philadelphia was highlighted with poor passing and generally sloppy offensive play. Another major difference between the first two weeks and last week was goaltending. Mike Thompson was spectacular in the first two wins of the year. But Thompson and Angus Goodleaf played very average lacrosse in the last two games.
I would expect Darris Kilgour to get his team going early. Jumping on a team that is already down and out will be key in this type of matchup.
Mike Thompson stepped in to relieve Angus Goodleaf last week. However, his time was short lived after he participated in the brawl that ended the first half. Thompson made some great saves during a 26 minute scoreless streak against Philly in week three. However, he allowed some soft goals as well. A strong performance from Thompson will be necessary this evening.
Tyler Richards is a capable goaltender who is always a risk to get hot. He put forward a terrific effort in last season’s Champions Cup Final. Based on his history, there is no reason to think a goaltender duel is out of the question. The onus may lie with his teammates to give him the support he has lacked for the first three games this year.
Last week was a bad one for the Bandits. They got into a brawl, took a bunch of penalties and allowed a ton of power play goals. Last Friday’s loss to Philadelphia saw the Bandits fail to capitalize on special teams – both killing penalties and scoring on the power play – and it cost them in a close game. The loss in Minnesota was by a large margin, but failing to stop the power play made widening the margin easy for the Swarm. Minimizing penalties will be key tonight.
John Tavares just keeps ticking. While the Bandits have gotten much deeper on offense, this team still runs through Johnny Who. Tavares has 23 points (10+13) on the year and has been an offensive catalyst throughout. Buffalo has received strong contributions from other players, minimizing the need for stellar games from Tavares this far. However, last week was a strong indicator that the Bandits do need another player to step up and play big on a weekly basis.