Dirty Dozen: Dissecting Buffalo’s skid, NLL awards and why is Kahnawake still home?

Cody Jamieson and the Knighthawks would love to send the rival Bandits to their 8th straight loss. (Photo: Ward Laforme Jr.)
Cody Jamieson and the Knighthawks would love to send the rival Bandits to their 8th straight loss. (Photo: Ward Laforme Jr.)

Here we go again with the Buffalo Bandits and their losing streak, which is now at a franchise record 7 straight. And if it seems like we’re picking on the Bandits, think again. It’s more fascinating from a curiosity standpoint, as in how can a team with this much talent and a goalie that’s having a career year string so much misery together? And it’s not like it’s been in recent years, when it seemed the heart was sucked right out of Bandit Land. You see the team working and the effort is there, but it’s a combination of mistakes, a lack of discipline at key moments and some bad breaks that has the Bandits on the skids. But if there’s one thing we have here at ILIndoor, it’s time, and we used it this week to take a closer look at some of the numbers.

To be sure, statistics are not the only definition of a streak whether it’s a winning one or a losing one. There are intangibles to factor in like matchups, routines and circumstances beyond their control. But stats can help shed some light on situations, and we believe we found some that fit right into the context of what’s going on in Buffalo.

First, the Bandits were 8-2 in their first 10 games, in first place in the East Division and riding high, thinking they’d put last year’s misery behind them. You’ll recall that the Bandits were 5-3 in 2013 before losing 7 of their last 8 games that cost them a berth in the playoffs and, ultimately, Darris Kilgour his job as coach.

But since that 8-2 start, the Bandits have lost 7 straight. And it’s a credit to the players and coaches there that no one has hit the panic button. Having clinched a playoff berth weeks ago helps keep the calm in order, but there’s no question the Bandits want to turn things around and avoid heading into the postseason with the wrong kind of momentum.

So what’s been happening in Bandit Land? Let’s take a look at some numbers, mostly comparing the first 10 games with the last 7.

Perhaps the most obvious is offensive production. In the first 10 games, Buffalo averaged 11.9 goals per game. In the 7 straight losses, Buffalo is averaging 8.14. The defense has remained fairly steady, giving up 10.1 goals per game in the first 10 games and 11.9 during the losing streak.

Is it special teams? Depends on how you interpret percentages.

First 10 games
Power play: 40% (17-for-43)
Penalty killers: 43% (23-for-53)

Last 7 games
Power play: 37% (13-for-35)
Penalty killers: 52% (22-for-42)

What about strength of schedule? In the first 10 games, Buffalo played Philadelphia, Toronto, Colorado, Rochester and Minnesota. The combined record for those teams today is 38-47. In the 7 games since, Buffalo has played Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, Rochester and Toronto. Today, those teams are a combined 55-46.

Extend that thought to playoff teams. Buffalo is 5-5 against teams in this year’s playoffs and 3-4 against teams not in the playoffs.

And speaking of schedule, it’s clear the Bandits are preferential to home. Of the first 10 games, 7 were at home, while 6 of the last 7 have been on the road. As it is, Buffalo is 6-2 at home this season, 2-7 on the road. At home, the Bandits are 4-1 when leading at halftime (6-1 overall). When they’re trailing at halftime, they’re 0-6 on the road (1-7 overall).

Finally, what’s the biggest advantage of being at home? In Buffalo at least, it’s the crowd. The Bandits feed off that energy, so what happens when that energy disappears? The point here is that in the first 10 games of the season, the Bandits played in front of a combined 127,307 fans at home and on the road. That’s an average of 12,730 per game. In the last 7 games, the combined crowds come to 60,219. That’s an average of 8,603 per game. As ILIndoor colleague Marty O’Neill told me earlier this season, don’t discount the effect of a half-empty building after you’ve grown accustomed to packed barns.

This is a lot to digest, for sure. And while the Bandits may not be breaking down numbers like these, you can bet they’re looking long and hard to find a way out of this funk. From the suits on down, the last thing anyone in Buffalo wants is for this losing stuff in the second half of seasons to become a habit. Considering the Bandits are 3-14 in the second half of the last 2 seasons combined, they’d love to prove the doubters wrong.

•••

And the winner is … The National Lacrosse League late last week announced a new format for the league’s season awards. And it’s, um, well, interesting. Essentially, 3 finalists for each award will be named after the playoffs. That part, we like. But the winners will wait until an Aug. 31 ceremony in Toronto to be recognized. That’s the part that has us scratching our heads. It’s nice that the NLL wants to have this ceremony coincide with the league’s junior tournament, but here’s hoping that thought also was given to summer lacrosse for the big boys. Last year’s Minto Cup wrapped up in late August and the WLA and MSL senior leagues were late into their playoff runs to determine Mann Cup participants. The potential is there for conflicting schedules so let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Let’s also hope the NLL fan interest remembers to show up after such a long wait.

•••

What’s going on? Imagine arriving at the airport, bags packed and energy ready to go as you have a trip planned to the Czech Republic to play in the Ales Hrebesky Tournament. You’ve been planning this for weeks, got the time off of work, said your goodbyes to the family and can hardly wait to see a new country and help grow the game. Then you get the airport, can’t find your team manager and discover that the plane tickets you were told would be waiting for you are not only not there, but they were never purchased. And the man who told you all of this would be taken care of — after you gave him $1,200 — is nowhere to be found. That’s what happened to the Kahnawake Tomahawks this week and as of today, they’re still looking for Kevin Biggs, team manager for the Tomahawks who also is a National Lacrosse League referee. Biggs has been placed on administrative leave by the NLL as this mess is sorted out. We’re not jumping to conclusions here, but the situation looks pretty fishy. Here’s hoping it all works out in the end. No one needs to deal with this sort of stuff, lacrosse guys or not.

•••

He said it: “It felt a little bit extra special that I did it against the Bandits. Got in finally, felt pretty pumped up before that game.”

Former Buffalo Bandits player Derek Hopcroft, to NLL.com, after getting into his first game with the Knighthawks this season and scoring a goal in Rochester’s 8-4 win.

•••

Minnesota Milestone: Minnesota Swarm veteran forward Callum Crawford scored 1 goal in Saturday’s home loss to Colorado, but it was the 142nd goal for him in a Swarm jersey which makes Crawford the all-time leading goal-scorer in franchise history. Ryan Benesch, who was traded to Buffalo in the offseason, was the former holder of that mark and Crawford can add to that mark in the season finale Saturday night against Toronto.

•••

Summer lacrosse? Believe it or not, the summer season is nearly upon us. Junior C lacrosse in Ontario starts the 2014 season Thursday night, while the Junior B loop kicks off this weekend and the Junior A boys are about 2 1/2 weeks from getting started. The BCJALL also kicks off its Junior A season this weekend, while the seniors in Ontario and B.C. have a few more weeks yet before they get going.

•••

Nice problem to have: Apparently, 3 teams aren’t enough for Six Nations. The Chiefs are the defending Mann Cup champs, the Junior B Rebels are defending Founders Cup champs, and the Junior A Arrows are perennial contenders for the Minto Cup. That’s the kind of success that grows the game, and leads Six Nations to form a Junior C team for 2014. The Six Nations Warriors being Junior C play on Thursday and join the Oakville Hawks as new teams in the 17-team league.

•••

He said it, II: “Guess that means I’ve either played a long time or I’m extremely lucky 602 times.”

Colorado Mammoth forward John Grant Jr., to NLL.com, who scored career goals No. 600, 601 and 602 in Saturday’s win over Minnesota. Grant is the third player in NLL history to reach that plateau.

•••

Rebuild: It was weird not seeing the New Westminster Salmonbellies in the WLA playoffs last year, and they know that. It was weird for them, too. So they’ve taken to tinkering and the offseason trade of goalie Tyler Richards raised a few eyebrows. On Wednesday, the Bellies announced the signing of Alexis Buque, who helped the Whitby Warriors win 2 Minto Cups in 3 seasons. This past summer he was the No. 1 keeper for Whitby and his performance was impressive as any we’ve seen at the Minto and it spurred New West GM Dan Richardson to get in touch with Buque about playing in New West just 1 week after the Minto tournament. So bringing on Buque, along with a strong draft and the Tyler Richards trade giving the Bellies additional first-round draft picks this year and next, it looks like New Westminster is in good position to improve, and improve quickly.

•••

Hard to pinpoint: There’s been something different about this NLL season and more than 1 person has mentioned the lack of intensity. And for as many people who have brought it up, there have been that many theories as to why. Smaller rosters? More games in the regular season? A drop in fights? Dominant teams in Edmonton and Rochester? Maybe it’s all of this, and maybe it’s more. No matter which theory you subscribe to, ILIndoor’s Marty O’Neill shared his thoughts as to what might be going on so in case you missed it, give his column a read. As always, Marty’s viewpoints are fresh and candid, making them well worth your time.

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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