It has been a strange season for the New England Black Wolves to this point, and Friday night’s home matchup with the Buffalo Bandits was just another puzzling chapter for New England.
The National Lacrosse League’s East Division is as tight as it can possibly be with first and last place being separated by only one game coming into the night. First place was New England, and last was Buffalo. With that said, this was the midway point of a very important five game stretch for New England against teams from the East. They had just split a home-and-home with Toronto and they knew what had to be done with Buffalo coming to town.
The Bandits came into the game on a four game losing streak where they had been outscored 55-37 and this game could have gone one of two ways for Buffalo. Either they would continue to struggle or they would snap out of it. They did the latter, and they did it in a major way, breaking out for a 20-7 victory over the Black Wolves.
For the Black Wolves, home field advantage at Mohegan Sun Arena had been key to their success in making the playoffs for each of the last two seasons. This year it has been a different story. After going 11-7 in the previous two seasons, New England is 3-4 at home this year. With Friday night’s defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bandits, the Black Wolves have now lost their last four home games by a combined score of 71-40.
New England’s Stephan Leblanc got the scoring started just over a minute into the game but Vaughn Harris answered for Buffalo only seven seconds later. Those seven seconds would be the only time that the Black Wolves led in this game. Former Bandit Callum Crawford briefly tied the game at 2-2 half way through the 1st quarter but that is when Buffalo’s offense came to life and broke this game wide open.
Buffalo’s Mitch Jones went on a tear for almost eight minutes when he scored four straight goals to put Buffalo in complete control at 7-2. Harris added another late goal to give the Bandits a commanding 8-2 lead going into the halftime break.
Looking for a spark to start their offense, Leblanc started the second half similar to the way he started the game by scoring 25 seconds in. Colton Watkinson added another goal for the Black Wolves who looked to be starting a run that could get them back in the game. Buffalo had different plans as they quickly overwhelmed New England and took back control.
The Bandits then started an unbelievable 11-0 run that stopped the Black Wolves in their tracks. Jones ended the contest with a game-high six goals while Dhane Smith (2G, 7A) and Harris (4G, 4A) led the way with nine and eight points, respectively. Adding to the sting of defeat for the Black Wolves, former captain Shawn Evans added a goal and five assists in his first game against New England since being traded for Crawford on February 28th. Evans also had a game-high 12 shots.
The silver lining for New England was that Leblanc and Kevin Crowley continued their strong play on the offensive side of the floor. Leblanc picked up two goals and an assist while Crowley had a hat trick for the fifth time in his last six games. Crowley also extended his goal scoring streak to 31 consecutive games. Former Bandit, Crawford added a goal and two assists against his former club.
Buffalo was 7-for-9 on the power play while New England was 0-for-4. The Black Wolves are last in the league with only nine power play goals on the season. However, that stat does not tell the full story because coming into the game the Black Wolves have only had 21 power plays and scored on nearly 43 percent of their man advantages. The Black Wolves are last in the NLL averaging only 1.9 power plays per game, coming in. The one-win Vancouver Stealth has the next least with an average of 3.3 power plays per game and 17 goals with the man advantage.
It will be a quick turnaround for the Black Wolves as they travel to Georgia to face the Swarm in another East Division matchup on Saturday night. It will be the first time this season that New England plays on back-to-back days. The Black Wolves will be back home at Mohegan Sun Arena on April 8th when they face the Calgary Roughnecks for an afternoon matinee.