For much of the 2012 season, it seemed like whatever could go wrong for the Buffalo Bandits did go wrong. They suffered losing streaks, injuries, shaky goaltending, inconsistent defence, stagnant offence and a general malaise that just seemed to dog them for long stretches of the year. For all that, they wound up tied for the division lead in goals scored, gave up only six more than they scored, wound up tied for second in the East and were a foot in the crease away from riding the Flying V play to overtime in the division semi-finals. Of course, it was that pesky inconsistency that had them behind Toronto in that game in the first place. With all the wackiness that ensued in last year’s playoffs, it would be easy to forget that Buffalo led the Rock at the Air Canada Centre 6-2 at the half but didn’t score again. Make the jump to see more of what went right and wrong in Banditland last year.
Things were tickety-boo out of the gate for Buffalo. Wins over the defending champion Rock and then the Rochester Knighthawks filled the sails of Bandits fans to start the year. They finished the season taking three out of four, including wins over both eventual Champions Cup combatants and a thrilling, season-ending 17-16 overtime win in Washington. With that making their record 5-1 for those games, and the Bandits final tally sitting at 7-9, it’s easy to figure that the middle of the schedule won’t be making a lot of team highlight reels. They rode bad decisions, bad play and bad luck to a 2-8 stretch that had fans wringing their hands and Head Coach Darris Kilgour repeatedly telling the press his players were playing stupid lacrosse. The West Division arose as the more powerful half of the league and the Bandits had particular trouble with teams west of them, posting the worst inter-division record in the NLL at 2-5.
John Tavares was great. The ageless wonder scored 41 goals, good for second in the league to relative whippersnapper John Grant, and added 39 assists to lead the club with 80 points. Luke Wiles was solid after coming over from Washington, as well. He scored 39 times with 31 assists. They did wind up tied for the East lead in goals with Toronto, potting 198. That figure is a bit misleading, though, as 28% of their goals came in three games. Too often, it felt like they just couldn’t create good scoring chances and couldn’t finish effectively when they did. The playoff loss to Toronto was a perfect example. Six goals at halftime was fine. But how does a team with so much talent go the final 34:17 without scoring? Don’t ask any of the Bandits, because they were just as befuddled as anyone after the game. Particularly troubling was Tracey Kelusky’s 28-point output. The potential Hall of Famer has struggled in both of his seasons with Buffalo. As last season went on it looked like he may have been trying too hard to get things turned around. Kelusky is a fierce and proud competitor and he knew as well as anyone that he wasn’t living up to the billing that preceded him to town.
Defence and Goaltending
Just ask Kilgour how he feels about giving up over 200 goals (204, to be exact). But maybe get the kids out of earshot before you do. The Bandits defence was full of solid veterans like Scott Self, Chris White, Billy Dee Smith, Tom Montour and Daryl Gibson. They’re all good players, but at times they took turns looking like rookies. White, who had terrific summer seasons in both 2011 and 2012, seemed to have lost his knack for always being in the right place during the winter. Smith struggled to get back to his pre-knee-injury self but improved as the season went on. As a whole, the D seemed to be having trouble communicating. Things looked better down the stretch and holding the opponent to seven goals in a playoff game should allow you to win it. It almost was thanks to an outstanding effort by Anthony Cosmo against the Rock in that game. Neither goalie had a consistent regular season. For a while it didn’t look like Cosmo or Mike Thompson would make it through a full game. Their save percentages of .759 and .753, respectively, were below their usual standards.
The Bandits have a reputation as a team of bad boys and their relative power play stats reflect that. Buffalo had the man advantage 96 times last year while being shorthanded 111 times. They finished second in the league on the power play with a success rate of 55.2%. That despite there being little surprise about where the goals were going to come from: Tavares scored 21 power play goals, Wiles 18 and no one else more than five. In fact, Mat Giles (five) and Chad Culp (four) were the only other players to score more than a single power play marker.
The Bandits weren’t as stroing in penalty kill efficiency, however, at 47.7% (7th in the league). Despite the wide disparity, Buffalo only allowed five more power play goals than they scored, 58-53. Their aggressive style of play means they’ll probably continue to take more penalties than their opponents. Continued success on the power play is important, but they definitely need to improve their PK to move up the ladder in the division.
Shortly before the season, Buffalo lost Brenden Thenhaus from their practice roster to Toronto. In-season, most of their moves were typical roster shuffling to replace players who were injured or suspended. Jay Thorimbert and Jimmy Purves both spent time on both the practice and active rosters. Mike McNamara got into four games after Steve Priolo was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. They did make two more notable moves. Buffalo surprised some observers by releasing Kyle Sweeney, at which point they activated Travis Irving. Their major move was trading promising rookie defender Jeff Cornwall to Edmonton in exchange for a second round pick in this year’s draft, which they used to select big lefty forward Carter Bender.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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