The Buffalo Bandits (4-4) head to the Blue Cross Arena this Saturday to take on the Rochester Knighthawks (4-3) for the third time in four weeks. The game will wrap up the season series between these two teams and should prove crucial in the East Division standings. Watch on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.
Both of the previous games saw the Bandits lose a lead in the second half and the Knighthawks run away for a big game. The Hawks took the first game in Rochester 17-11 and the second game in Buffalo last week 15-10.
Buffalo has had some struggles offensively and their power play is the worst in the league. Against a team like Rochester, Buffalo will need scoring for 60 minutes and will need to find some power play success.
“Our special teams are killing us, especially our power play,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “It’s awful. I guess we just go back to things that we’re comfortable with. It’s going to change.”
Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat talked about the work that was put in to the power play at practice this Tuesday and the changes that might be forthcoming.
“Shots aren’t dropping right now. Sometimes we look at a power play and say ‘that was our best power play of the game’ and it’s a power play we didn’t score on,” said Teat. “We’re looking at all aspects of it, we’re looking at personnel aspects as well.”
Buffalo managed to hold Cody Jamieson to zero goals last week in Banditland, but he did rack up nine assists. The defensive unit thinks that accomplishment is both good and bad.
“It is a win keeping him out of the goal column,” said Bandits transition player Nick Weiss. “We need to extend on him and not give him time and space to set up the other guys.”
The transition game has been working for Buffalo. They’ve scored about half of the Bandits goals in each of the last two games against Rochester.
“We’ve got a young and fast defense,” said Bandit Kevin Brownell. “Transition is a big part of our game plan. We’ve just got to find more consistency going forward.”
Consistency has been lacking for Buffalo of late, especially on the offensive side of the floor. After having an eight-goal first half in Week 7, Buffalo only scored twice in the second half.
“We have to do the simple things better. We have to take the shots when they’re there,” said Bandits forward Mark Steenhuis. “We’re not hitting the outside shots so we’ve got to find ways to get inside.”
Buffalo will be looking to improve upon their 1-4 record against the East Division. They also are looking for a win against its Thruway rivals. Another loss would have them looking up at both Rochester and Toronto in the East standings with half the season left.
46-year-old Bandits veteran John Tavares, the league’s all-time leading scorer, practiced on Tuesday and appears to be a game-time decision for Saturday after missing several weeks with a lower-body injury.
The Knighthawks are coming off a weekend that saw them defeat the Bandits in Buffalo and the New England Black Wolves in Connecticut by identical 15-10 scores.
“It was a long weekend with two great games,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “Two very tough and difficult battles right from the get-go. We stuck with what we do best, stuck to our principles, and we managed to come away with two nice and much-needed wins at this time of the year.”
Rochester’s rough 0-2 start to the season that had people wondering seems to have been pushed aside after three wins in their last four games.
“You never try and panic in this league,” said Knighthawks defenseman Paul Dawson. “It’s a short season, but when things go bad, you try not to panic. When panic sets in, that’s when I feel things start going even worse. We started off 0-2, had a couple of tough losses, but we knew as a group who we had in the dressing room. We needed to correct a couple of things, but I think it was just getting back to our gameplan and what works for us. Once we did that, we got a couple of wins and then confidence starts building. We get a little more comfortable in our gameplan and in our abilities.”
Rochester’s offense has come alive the last few weeks, hitting at least 15 goals in three out of their last four games. Knighthawks forward and reigning NLL MVP Cody Jamieson was a key cog in the Knighthawks’ scoring machine this weekend, tallying nine assists in Buffalo and five points (3+2) against the Black Wolves en route to winning the Pinty’s Wingman of the Week award for Week 7.
That resurgence also coincides with the return of forward Stephen Keogh who missed the first four games of the season dealing with an injury from the summer.
“Keogh adds a bit of grittiness,” Hasen said. “He keeps guys honest on the floor. When he’s playing tough, guys play tougher and a little bit better around him. For us, it’s always been who’s in the lineup. Stick to your roles and stick to it. But to have him back and playing, this weekend he really stepped up his game. We just need to keep him rolling and go from there.”
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) & Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.