The slumping Buffalo Bandits (5-6) host the surging Edmonton Rush (6-5) at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Dale MacMillan)
Mired in a season-long three-game losing streak, the Buffalo Bandits (5-6) look to turn things around at home against the surging Edmonton Rush (6-5) at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
Winners of their last three and five of their last six games, the Rush come into this weekend’s game as the NLL’s hottest team. Not only has Edmonton been earning victories, but they have been earning them handily with an average margin of victory of almost five goals per game.
Coming out of a bye week, Edmonton beat the Rochester Knighthawks by a score of 11-9 last weekend in a rematch of the 2012 NLL Championship Game.
“It was a big win for us,” said Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan. “We played with quite a bit of energy considering [the bye week] and came out strong early…we managed to get the job done and get another big road win for us.”
"Regardless of the win, doesn't feel as good as if we would have won last year,” said Edmonton’s goaltender Aaron Bold. “We have been playing very consistent as a team, this weekend is a very pivotal situation for us, and we are looking to come out on top."
Meanwhile, the Bandits have been faltering mightily, losing their last three contests. Perhaps more concerning is their recent inability to win at home, dropping the last four games played in Buffalo
The coaching staff knows it will have its hands full with Edmonton coming to town on a hot streak in what will be the first ever Rush game played in “Banditland.”
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” said Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgour. “They’ve won three in a row, we’ve lost three in a row. We’re looking to turn it around, they’re looking to keep it going. This weekend, we’ll find out which team can attain their goal.”
Buffalo is coming off back-to-back losses to a Colorado Mammoth team that before playing Buffalo had the NLL’s worst record. It’s possible the Bandits felt like they had those games won before they were played.
“Colorado came out and they played like they were desperate and we played like we were just fine and hoping to hang on and work our way up the standings, but Colorado took it to us the last two weeks,” Kilgour said. “Hopefully now we can be the desperate team.”
After a slow start to the 2013 NLL season, the Rush have found their rhythm in recent weeks putting themselves in the driver’s seat towards a playoff berth. The Rush can clinch that berth this weekend, in fact, with victories against Buffalo on Saturday and Toronto on Sunday, coupled with a Colorado loss on Saturday.
It’s clear the Rush players are playing with confidence and coalescence in recent weeks.
“I think we’ve been playing very consistent as a team and I think the camaraderie is really coming together,” Bold said. “This weekend is a very pivotal situation for us and we’re looking to come out on top for sure.”
For Buffalo, it seems the only consistency in recent weeks has been a lack of discipline. Penalties have been absolutely devastating; a point Kilgour cannot harp on enough.
“It comes down to staying out of the box. We took two five-minute penalties in the first half [last week] and Colorado scored three goals on the Chad Culp five-minute penalty and then scored two on the Billy Dee [Smith] penalty. So there’s five goals in a row and it absolutely destroys our flow.
“We’re a team where if we get five guys running out the [offensive] door, they do their job; five guys running out the back door and they do their job, that’s where we seem to wear teams down.”
Avoiding penalties allows the offensive units to find a rhythm and ultimately leads to success. It’s a simple concept, but one this Buffalo team has struggled with far too often this season.
Saturday night they have another opportunity to right the ship in front of their home crowd as they get their first look at Rush rookie phenom Mark Matthews, who ranks third in the NLL with 31 goals and leads all rookie scorers with 51 points (31+20).
As the first overall pick in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft, there were high hopes for Matthews to step in and contribute right away. While his coach has been impressed with his play thus far, he seems to hold Matthews to a higher standard.
"I did have pretty high expectations of him, I don't know if he's succeeded, but he just continues to get better,” Keenan said. “Obviously when you’re 6'5", 230 pounds and you’ve got that kind of skill and experience he had coming in, playing at high levels from a young age, he certainly was in a position to contribute right away. He really buys into the system and works well with others.”
Following Saturday night's game, Edmonton will end their five-game road swing by visiting the league-leading Toronto Rock (8-3) at Air Canada Centre on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. With two wins this weekend and a loss by the Colorado Mammoth (4-7), the Rush can clinch a playoff berth.