The Buffalo Bandits took sole possession of first place in the East Division with a 12-9 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks Saturday night at the Blue Cross Arena.
John Tavares, the NLL’s all-time scoring leader, had four goals and four assists while team defense ruled the day on the other end of the floor.
“I though the defense played a lot better than they did last week,” said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour. “We had a ‘plan B’ [for the defense] but the guys went out there and executed so well we never had to switch to ‘plan B’, and it just shows that the guys truly understand what our defense is.”
Bandits transition player Mark Steenhuis two goals and an assist, but spent a lot of time on the defensive side in five-on-five situations.
“The first game [the defense] was a bit more scrambled,” he said, “and tonight we got our defense set up and then we can go through our motions. I think we dictated more or less to them where we wanted to put them and we forced them to the spots where they didn’t really want to go.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair until the fourth quarter. The turning point occurred less than two minutes into the final frame when Rochester was penalized for too many men. At that point the Bandits were clinging to an 8-7 lead before scoring with the man advantage to spark a run of four goals in less than four minutes to stretch their lead to 12-7.
The Bandits scored five times in the fourth, including two goals each from Tavares and Roger Vyse, who was seeing his first action of the 2012 season after sitting out as a healthy scratch last week. All the emphasis on strength and conditioning in training camp seemed to be paying dividends. As Rochester’s defense started to fatigue, the Bandits capitalized.
“Our practices are pretty tough and all our guys are in good shape and that’s all we got to do is keep outrunning everybody,” Vyse said.
Tavares thought his team started shooting much better in the latter part of the game.
“Once we got a little more confident with shooting the ball they started dropping. It wasn’t anything we had planned, it was just we shot better,” he said.
The Bandits had a strong and loud contingent of fans that made the trip down the New York State Thruway.
“We always get a good turnout here in Rochester so it’s almost like a home game really. I only heard the Bandits fans,” Tavares said.
The first quarter was dominated by strong defense and fantastic goaltending by both sides as the score was tied 1-1 through 15 minutes.
The Bandits limited the Knighthawks to low percentage shots from the perimeter. Buffalo goaltender Mike Thompson, the reigning NLL defensive player of the week, made some key saves to keep the score tight early, but was not relied upon for bail-outs like he was last week in a victory over Toronto.
“That was just a ho-hum game for [Thompson], he makes it look so easy,” Kilgour said of his netminder’s 31-save performance for his second win of the season.
The tight defensive play continued into the second quarter. The Bandits had a five-minute power play following an illegal cross check by Rory Glaves but could not find the back of the net.
The second half was a different story, with both offenses coming alive. After Luke Wiles notched his second of the night to give the Bandits a 5-3 edge, the Knighthawks came back with three straight goals, taking their first lead of the game on a marker by former Bandit Mike Accursi.
That lead was short-lived as Tavares scored just 25 seconds later.
“We took a nice long run [of goals],” Tavares said, “and kind of put the game away.”
Wiles finished with six points, including four assists, bringing his total to 10 (five goals, five assists) in 2012. Chad Culp also had a strong game by scoring twice, including a highlight-reel goal that saw him collect a high rebound off a Vyse shot and quickly put it home while in midair.
Kilgour expects to have a similar lineup in the Bandits next game on Friday at home against Philadelphia, but may make some changes as Buffalo travels to face Minnesota the following night.
John Tavares and Roger Vyse each scored twice in a five-goal fourth quarter as the Buffalo Bandits defeated the Rochester Knighthawks 12-9 on Saturday night at the Blue Cross Arena.
Tavares – the NLL’s all-time leading scorer – finished with four goals and four assists. Vyse, Mark Steenhuis, Luke Wiles and Chad Culp each had two goals for Buffalo (2-0)
Mike Thompson turned aside 31 of 40 shots in the win.
Rochester (1-1) was led by rookie Stephen Keogh and Cody Jamieson, who each scored twice. Matt Vinc stopped 36 of 48 shots as the Knighthawks dropped their home opener to their western New York rivals.