This weekend: Knighthawks continue search for first NLL win; Boston Rockhoppers look to extend their lead in NALL standings

The Bandits will be without injured veteran John Tavares in Saturday's big matchup with Toronto. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The Bandits will be without injured veteran John Tavares in Saturday's big matchup with Toronto. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

We’re heading into Week 5 of the National Lacrosse League and there aren’t many secrets left. If anything, teams learned how quickly fortunes can change. Just ask the Calgary Roughnecks, who went from the basement at 0-2 to a half-game out of first place by winning both weekend tilts. Or you can ask the Philadelphia Wings, who went from being the NLL’s only unbeaten team at 2-0 to 1.5 games out of first place by losing both weekend games. Meanwhile, the Toronto Rock are fielding a suffocating defense that will be tested in Buffalo this weekend, and the Riggers hope to keep that momentum rolling in the first installment of the 2013 Battle of Alberta when they travel to Edmonton. It’s not as busy as last weekend’s 7 games, but 4 games on Saturday night will do fans just fine, thank you very much.

The Toronto at Buffalo game (7:30 p.m.) won’t be available on YouTube unless you’re outside of North America, but hopefully you have the means to catch this game. It’s about as good as it gets for this early in an NLL season. Two East Division rivals, Toronto is 4-1 and Buffalo is 3-1. Toronto goalie Nick Rose has been a wall, but the Buffalo offense has played much better and much more consistently than it did last season. Even coach Darris Kilgour mentioned this week how hot the ball’s been in Buffalo.

That said, the Bandits will be challenged by the absence of veteran forward John Tavares. He’ll miss the game with a calf injury, which means the Toronto defense can pay more attention to rookie Dhane Smith, who has been impressive this season as the team’s second-leading scorer. It’ll also be Chris White’s return to Buffalo since the team’s former captain and defenseman extraordinaire signed with Toronto as a free agent in the offseason. A Buffalo victory creates a logjam atop the East standings, while a Toronto victory gives the Rock some early-season breathing room.

Also at 7:30, the Washington Stealth (3-2) are at the Rochester Knighthawks. The 0-3 mark for Rochester isn’t as bad as it looks as 2 of the team’s 3 losses are by 1 goal. Still, the defending champions are without a victory and they’re eager to get it going. One of those 1-goal losses was to Washington in the NLL opener on Jan. 5, but the Knighthawks didn’t have Casey Powell in the lineup for that game. Stealth coach Chris Hall acknowledges the challenge that CP presents, but the Knighthawks are focused on one thing and one thing only: Getting into the W column.

Saturday night’s later games include the young and quick Minnesota Swarm (1-2) at a Colorado Mammoth (1-2) team that’s searching for answers on defense. The Mammoth released veteran goalie Chris Levis on Monday with the hope that it’s the spark the defense needs. Having given up 17 goals in the first quarter combined through 3 games, a solid start on defense will be essential for Colorado against a Minnesota team in which 12 of the 23 rostered players are in their first or second NLL seasons.

The other late game kicks off the newest chapter of the Battle of Alberta. For the Edmonton Rush, it’s simple: they’re out for respect. The Calgary Roughnecks (2-2) lead this all-time series, 20-4, and have won 10 straight in the regular season against Edmonton. The Rush (1-2) won last season’s playoff matchup and that was cool and all, but the Rush say it’s now a matter of earning respect by showing they can beat their biggest rival in the regular season. The Rush have allowed a league-low 32 goals, but the Calgary offense sprung to life last weekend and scored 35 goals in its 2 games, both victories on the road.

NALL

It’s about as big as it can get for an NALL weekend with 3 games on tap, 1 for each day.

Friday night, the Baltimore Bombers (2-1) are at the Kentucky Stickhorses (1-2) for a 7 p.m. faceoff. The Bombers are back on the floor following last weekend’s 20-9 pummeling at the hands of Boston, while the Stickhorses are back after a weekend off. The Stickhorses will be just as eager as the Bombers as Kentucky’s last time out was a 16-9 loss to Boston on Jan. 19. It’ll be the first game of the season between Baltimore and Kentucky and the Stickhorses hope the addition of former NLLer Jesse Guerin helps spark an offense that’s averaging just more than 11 goals per game.

On Saturday, the Rhode Island Kingfish (0-2) play at the first-place Boston Rockhoppers (3-1) at 7 p.m. for their first meeting of the season and Sunday’s 1 p.m. capper to the weekend features a rematch of the Baltimore and Kentucky teams, again in Kentucky. Boston is averaging a whopping 15.5 goals per game, while the next-closest team, Baltimore, is averaging 12.6.

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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