When you’re the only team in the nine-team National Lacrosse League to miss the playoffs, it’s fairly clear that a number of things went wrong. The consolation, at least, is that you get the first pick in the draft and a chance to restock the cupboards. For the second year in a row, though, the team that finished last had already traded away the top pick. So the Buffalo Bandits, with their 6-10 record in 2013, got to watch the playoffs from home and got to watch the Minnesota Swarm snag Logan Schuss with the first pick in the draft. That double whammy led to plenty of change in the offseason of a year many in Banditland would likely just as soon forget.
Other than the 6-game losing streak from March 1 to April 6, the Bandits season wasn’t all that bad. Unfortunately for Buffalonians, that’s a little like asking the captain of the Titanic, “Other than the iceberg thing, how was the trip?” The losing streak started out innocently enough. The Bandits, sitting at 5-3 and in pretty good shape in the playoff race, lost a 1-goal game to the Philadelphia Wings. From there, it got ugly in a hurry. The Bandits lost three of the next four by at least 6 goals. Then there was the 21-7 debacle in Minnesota. But, the Bandits still had a chance at making the playoffs when they beat Washington in their penultimate game of the season and headed home for a make-or-break game against Rochester. Buffalo led that game 4-1 but then another six-pack killed them. Rochester struck for 6 straight goals and the Bandits could never quite catch back up, although they pulled within a single goal in the 10-9 loss that ended their season and, as it turned out, Darris Kilgour’s run as the team’s head coach.
The Bandits scored one more goal than Philly’s league-low total of 170. They just didn’t have people that were putting the ball in the net. Rookie Dhane Smith’s team-leading 24 goals were good for just 24th in the league. Calgary and Toronto each had four players with more goals than Smith. The offence just never seemed to quite click, and it wasn’t any one player that wasn’t getting it done; there were plenty of culprits. Now former Bandit Luke Wiles dropped from 39 goals in 2012 to 10 last year. John Tavares fell from 41 to 14. Those were the most dramatic examples, but the roster was dotted with players scoring less than expected. It largely stemmed from an inability to work the ball inside for high-percentage shots.
Defence and Goaltending
The problem at the other end of the floor was almost the polar opposite: too many breakdowns providing opponents too many high-quality looks at Anthony Cosmo and Kurtis Wagar. The goalies numbers reflect it: .751 and .713 save percentages, respectively, and both averaging over 12 goals a game allowed. Only once in the entire season did the Bandits hold a team to fewer than 10 goals. All in all, they allowed 211 goals, tied for most in the NLL. The defensive problem was at its worst during the 6-game losing streak, in which the Bandits allowed a demoralizing 15.3 goals per game.
Not surprisingly for a team that struggled to score overall, the Bandits were last in the league on the power play, connecting on just 42% of their man advantages. Tavares and Aaron Wilson led the club with 7 power play goals each. Again, that put them well down the league list, sitting at 16th overall.
Things were a little better on the other side. Buffalo was sixth in the NLL on the penalty kill, successfully defusing 46.5% of opponents’ power plays. The problem there arises from the fact that, as usual, the feisty Bandits were among the league’s most penalized teams, giving up more man advantages than anyone but Calgary. That led to them giving up the second-most power play goals, with 53 allowed.
There was plenty of change in Buffalo after a shaky 2012 that saw the Bandits squeak into the playoffs and lose in the first round. Shawn Williams came from Edmonton and led the team in scoring, albeit with his lowest point total of this century. Dhane Smith had an excellent rookie year. Steve Priolo had a breakout season and was named one of the top defenders in the league. Aaron Wilson scored 23 goals and 23 assists. Other than that, you can look up and down the Bandits roster and not see a lot of players, new or returning, that really had good years.
Tracey Kelusky, thanks to a mix of injury and ineffectiveness, played only seven games and scored a stunningly low 10 points. Mike Hominuk scored only 21 points after posting 50 with Philly the year before. The defenders got beat far too often and never seemed to be on the same page. The goalies couldn’t bail their teammates out with big saves when they were needed.
The upshot is even more change leading up to the 2014 season, when the Bandits will floor a roster that looks markedly different to the one that finished last year. The team and its fans will enter the new year with high hopes that the results will be very different as well.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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