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What to Expect: Week 8

All games can be seen on ESPN+ and TSN+

Fri. Jan. 20

Bandits (4-1) at Knighthawks (5-0) – 7:30pm ET

The matchup of the week starts of Week 8 as the top two teams in the East compete for the top spot. Not too many in the lacrosse world would have had this game circled at the beginning of the season, but the I-90 rivalry this weekend should be fiery one.

After losing their first game of the season, the Bandits have rattled off four straight, including two wins in a row against the Swarm in the last two weeks. In Week 7 Buffalo used a strong start and finish to defeat the Swarm 11-9 in front of over 14,000 fans in Banditland. The team struggled on the penalty kill, allowing the Swarm to convert on four of six opportunities. Josh Byrne carried the load for the Bandits, recording a socktrick on the night. Byrne and Dhane Smith are currently first and second in points in the NLL, with Josh leading in goals scored and Dhane in assists. Matt Vinc had double digit saves in each quarter to help the team.

The team ahead of the Bandits in the standings is their longtime rival in the Rochester Knighthawks. This iteration of the Knighthawks is having their best start to date. Despite the critics at the beginning of the season, Dan Carey has built a complete roster and when healthy, is dangerous at every position. Through seven weeks, they are the lone undefeated team remaining in the NLL after the Seals lost last weekend.

In their game against the Riptide in Week 7, the Knighthawks used a strong second quarter to establish their lead behind three straight goals from Connor Fields. Rylan Hartley and the Rochester defense held a potent Riptide offense to just 41 shots on goal and held Jeff Teat without a goal. The Knighthawks were benefitted by the Riptide being in the penalty box for almost half the game, going 4/10 on the power play.

Something will have to give in this game. Both teams can win in low scoring contests or in a shootout. Last season the Bandits took all three contests against Rochester, which was no surprise when you had the top team and bottom team in the league. In their last game on February 26, the Bandits used a 9-4 second half to secure the win. Matt Vinc in net was spectacular, saving 52 of 60 shots. Connor Fields was one of three Bandits with three goals on the night, but this time he will be playing for the other team.

Warriors (1-4) at Desert Dogs (0-4) – 10:30pm ET

As predicted last week, one of these two teams was going to get a win to get their season back on track. Now the Desert Dogs have a chance at redemption against the Warriors after they fell 19-16 last week in Vancouver. Whereas for the Warriors, a two game win streak would exhume confidence in that locker room given the recent changes to their front office.

These two teams matched up in Vancouver in Week 7 in a shootout, the highest scoring game of the season. The Warriors lit the lamp early and often in their win. Despite trailing 2-0 early, they scored eight goals in the first quarter. To put that into perspective, the Warriors scored eight or less in two of their first three games of the season.

At the half, the Warriors would lead 14-8 with Keegan Bal and Kyle Killen with four and three goals respectively and Logan Schuss and Mitch Jones contributing with two each.

The Desert Dogs showed a lot of fight, outscoring the Warriors in the third and fourth, but was unable to mount the full comeback despite scoring four straight in the fourth, three from Zack Greer.

While the defense and goaltending was not there for the Desert Dogs, they had their best offensive output in their young franchises history. Rob Hellyer had 10 assists, Zack Greer with five goals and five other players with multigoal games. The net was split between Landon Kells in the first quarter and Joel Watson the remainder of the way. Combined, they saved 35 of 54 shots (.648 save percentage) which will need to improve for this team to compete in games.

The Warriors finished with six players with five or more points including Shawn Evans tied for the lead with eight. Reid Bowering had 14 loose ball recoveries, two assists, a blocked shot and two caused turnovers. Tyrell Hamer-Jackson has sparked this team at the draw, winning 24-36 on the night. Aden Walsh got the job done in net and secured his first career win.

Sat. Jan. 21

Rock (3-2) at Wings (2-2) – 1pm ET

Saturday begins with the Wings hosting the Rock, moved earlier in the day to a 1pm start time. A half game separates third place Toronto and sixth place Philadelphia in the East Conference, making these matchups especially important once we get closer to the playoffs.

Last weekend, the Rock took care of business at home against the Thunderbirds on their second leg of a back-to-back. No doubt the Thunderbirds had some tired legs but are still a premier team in the East to defeat 17-8. Tom Schreiber had a casual five goal night and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Mitch de Snoo, may be making a case for Transition Player of the Year or even MVP with a five-point night (3g, 2a) with seven loose balls and a caused turnover. Nick Rose was at the top of his game, saving 48 of 56 shots seen.

Despite the win, the Rock will want to be careful as they committed 55 minutes in penalties, including two 15-minute penalties committed by Brandon Slade and Billy Hostrawser late in the game when the score was out of reach. Similar to last season, the Rock have started off slow but are finding their groove after winning their last two.

The Wings lost a heartbreaker to Panther City in their home opener by a score of 12-10. Panther City would take the lead with under a minute remaining regulation. The Wings had a hot start, leading 6-2 at the half and kept the game clean, only allowing one power play to their opponents but did not do enough to win. Joe Resetarits has found his groove in his new uniform and has been getting solid contributions from Kiel Matisz and Matt Rambo. The defense and goaltending could not do enough late to keep the Wings ahead, allowing 10 goals in the second half.

In a similar pattern to last season, the Wings have beaten opponents with a combined record of 0-8 while their two losses are two teams with a combined record of 6-6. While not time to panic, the Wings go into a tough stretch of their season, playing Toronto (twice), Buffalo (twice), and Albany in five of their next six games.

Last season the Rock took both games against the Wings. In their last matchup on February 5, 2022, the Rock doubled up the Wings 14-7. Nick Rose and the Rock defense were able to slow the Wings offense, holding them to zero goals in the second half. On the other end, Dan Craig had a nine-point night (5g, 4a) followed by Schreiber with six points on four goals.

Riptide (0-4) at FireWolves (2-2) – 7pm ET

Another battle of teams in New York kicks off Saturday evening with the winless Riptide travelling to the Capital region to take on the FireWolves.

The FireWolves have gone through the early season gauntlet, playing Buffalo, Rochester, and Halifax (twice) in their first four games. While no game in the NLL is an easy win, their next six opponents have a combined record of 2-22 which can bode well for playoff positioning in the East if they can take advantage of the opportunity. They have played in three one goal games and the other being decided by just three goals this season.

Last week they played Halifax in the Nest which is never an easy place to play. Albany scored three of the final four, including the game tying goal with 33 seconds remaining to force overtime. In the extra frame, Kieran McArdle tallied his game high, fourth goal and eighth point of the game, to secure the win.

Despite McArdle carrying the bulk of the offensive load, 13 different FireWolves tallied a point on their way to the win. The defense caused eight turnovers and blocked nine shots as a team. Doug Jamieson was back in net and had an outstanding game and specifically in the fourth quarter, saving 18 of 22 shots. The FireWolves have missed Joe Nardella at the faceoff, winning just one of 25 draws on the night.

For the Riptide, they were still unable to secure their first win of the season last weekend and continued to shake things up this week, trading Callum Crawford to Panther City. The team was hindered by allowing 10 power play opportunities to the Knighthawks and only mustered 41 shots on goal for the entire game. Despite the final score, the game felt like it was in favor of the Knighthawks most of the night, especially with their four goal run in the second frame.

The Riptide are going to need a gut check, and this could be the weekend to do it. A team with Jeff Teat, Reilly O’Connor, Larson Sundown and Connor Kearnan was expected to be one of the top offenses in the league but are averaging just 10 goals per game, third worst in the NLL. On the other end, they have improved but are still averaging a league worst 15.25 goals against. While Albany is a tough team all around, they are only average 11.5 goals for and allowing 12 goals per game. The Riptide agreed to part ways with Jim Veltman and immediately made a trade, sending Jake Fox to Panther City in exchange for Chad Cummings. Many players are playing for a spot on this team for the remainder of the year.

Last year, these teams split their two matchups. In their last matchup on April 30, the FireWolves trounced the Riptide 17-9. Doug Jamieson saved 23 of 29 shots in the win. While it was a game with no effect on the outcome for New York, Albany was using this game to secure their spot in the playoffs in the final week of the regular season.