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Thruway .500: Bandits, Knighthawks both 3-3 entering third meeting

02/12/2013, 4:30pm EST
By NLL.com's Knighthawks beat writer Travis Larner and Bandits beat writer Alan Rosenhoch

Defending champs have raced up the standings after three straight wins

The Rochester Knighthawks (3-3) will host the visiting Buffalo Bandits (3-3) at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

The Buffalo Bandits (3-3) and Rochester Knighthawks (3-3) meet for the third time this season on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET at The Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

After starting the season 0-3, the Knighthawks have won three in a row to even their record at .500. In the first four games of the season, Rochester's offense managed only 39 goals, the lowest average in the league at under 10 goals per game. However, they scored a combined 35 goals in decisive road wins against Buffalo and Philadelphia last weekend.

“We’ve been saying our offense is just a matter of time and they’ll click,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “We were fortunate enough that it clicked twice in the same weekend. We just got to move forward from there.”

Rochester embarrassed Buffalo in front of their home fans last Saturday with a 15-7 road win. The only solace for most Bandits players was that they would not have to wait long for their chance to return the favor, this time again in Rochester’s arena, where they spoiled the Knighthawks home opener with a 14-13 win last month.

“No question, we’re excited to play Rochester again,” said Bandits transition player David Brock. “They came into our arena and pushed us around pretty good.”

Saturday’s loss was one of those games where everything seemed go wrong for the Bandits.

“Pretty much everything [needs to be better],” said Buffalo’s head coach Darris Kilgour. “We didn’t play well in too many areas last week. We need to play with more energy, more urgency. We need to shoot better. We need to defend better. In all areas, I think we need to compete at a higher level.”

Despite having their way with the Bandits last week, Rochester is not expecting a cakewalk this time around even with the absence of the league’s all-time leading scorer John Tavares, who will miss at least one more game with a calf injury.

“We know the Bandits weren’t at their best last week,” Hasen said. “We have all the respect for them and we know they’re going to come out even harder to prove that last week was an anomaly.”

Rochester forward Mike Accursi might know better than anyone how the Bandits react to a defeat of that nature. Accursi spent eight years with Buffalo in two stints over the course of his career, including five with Kilgour as head coach, so he is quite familiar with the back-and-forth nature of this rivalry.

“[Buffalo] struggled a bit [last Saturday] and we took advantage of it,” Accursi said. “I’m sure we’ll see a much different team on Saturday, so this just helps to fuel the rivalry.”

Accursi has helped revitalize the Knighthawks attack after not being in the lineup earlier this season.

“A lot of stuff that Mike does doesn’t necessarily show up in the game sheet,” Hasen said. “He works hard off-ball and he creates lanes and bangs guys through the middle. That’s one thing we need, guys to follow his lead and follow his example.”

One bright spot for the Bandits, even through their two recent losses, has been the transition gam as nine of Buffalo’s 19 goals in the past two games have come in transition situations.

Brock has been one of the keys to the transition game success, as his six goals in the first six games has already doubled his career high.

“Personally, I’ve had a decent year transitionally,” he said. “Until Darris tells me to pull the ball out and slow it down, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing by walking in and shooting. He’s given me the green light.”

Bandits backup goaltender Kurtis Wagar suffered a thigh muscle injury in the first half against Rochester last week and was designated to the practice squad. Buffalo has signed Scott Komer as his replacement behind starter Anthony Cosmo.

Komer’s only NLL experience was way back in 2001, when he appeared in six games with the Bandits, allowing 44 goals on 129 shots for a .659 save percentage. Komer has been playing in the minor leagues and nearly made Philadelphia’s roster as a backup this season.

After such a decisive loss, it’s no surprise that there will likely be several changes to the Bandits lineup this week. However, Kilgour would not offer specifics.

“Obviously we weren’t happy with the outcome [on Saturday], so we’re definitely going to be putting some other people in there,” he said. “We’re going to be putting guys in and out all year until we find the lineup that seems the most cohesive.”

Although the Knighthawks lead the all-time series with a 27-20 record against the Bandits, Rochester hasn't won consecutive games over their I-90 Thruway rival since the first two weeks of the 2010 season.

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