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Major penalties keep Bandits from fourth straight win

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

After three consecutive playoff knockouts by the Toronto Rock, it’s fair to think that the Buffalo Bandits would have a chip on their shoulders heading into the rivalry tilt. Despite Buffalo’s excellent effort in five-on-five situations, a few poorly conceived checks killed the Bandits in Saturday night’s 14-12 loss to Toronto at the First Niagara Center.

“I told the guys that I’m proud of the effort but I’m not proud of the stupidity,” Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour said flatly after the game, referring to the 16 penalty minutes—including two five-minute major penalties—and four power-play goals conceded..

The Bandits conceded four power-play goals overall and two short-handed goals in the fourth quarter, and Colin Doyle’s eight-point night (four goals, four assists) buoyed the visitors to a 5-1 record, good for a 1.5-game advantage atop the East Division.

Aaron Wilson and Mark Steenhuis both tallied hat tricks for the Bandits, while Shawn Williams led the club with five points. Buffalo drops to 3-2 overall but will still face Toronto two more times in the 2013 regular season.

Buffalo trailed only 9-8 entering the fourth quarter, but Doyle had other plans. The captain registered a fourth-quarter hat-trick in just under nine minutes, opening the final frame with a shorthanded screen shot that bounced past Buffalo goalie Anthony Cosmo.

Then, with Buffalo trailing 11-10 but holding a man-advantage due to a five-minute penalty on Damon Edwards—who nearly decapitated the Bandits’ Mark Steenhuis—Doyle tracked down a loose ball close to the midfield stripe before eluding a defender and attacking the heart of the Buffalo ‘D’ before solving Cosmo to the near post.

Finally, Doyle pushed the margin back to two with just under six minutes left with his second shorthanded tally of the quarter, a “gift” goal due to the fact that Steenhuis left Doyle alone in front of Cosmo’s cage, trusting that his other defenders would corral a loose ball in the left corner. Unfortunately for Buffalo’s star transition player, Josh Sanderson scooped up the ball for the Rock and whipped the ball to Doyle, who was parked all by himself in front of Cosmo for an easy finish.

“I don’t know how many went between [Cosmo’s] legs, but he has to make some timely saves for us,” said Kilgour, who usually gives his starting goalie the benefit of the doubt. “We didn’t get the timely saves that [Toronto] got [from Rose] toward the end there.”

Five-minute majors on Billy Dee Smith in the second quarter and rookie Hayden Smith in the fourth quarter left Buffalo on the penalty kill, and the high-powered Toronto power play wasted little time in finding the unmarked man.

Garrett Billings had seven points (two goals, five assists), Josh Sanderson had six points (one goal, five assists) and Stephan Leblanc posted five (two goals, three assists), but the true impact of the unforced penalties was keeping Buffalo’s full-strength offense off the carpet and allowing Toronto’s devastating man-up quintet freedom to do work.

Entering the contest finishing at just over 50% on man-up situations, Toronto’s primary five-some of Doyle, Billings, Leblanc, Sanderson and Kasey Beirnes—with the occasional smattering of Blaine Manning—moved the ball effortlessly, creating shooting lanes and exhausting Buffalo’s four-man box of defenders.

“That ball really moves around [on their power play.] That’s not a team you want to put on the power play, or you’re going to probably pay more times that not, and that was obviously one of our big downfalls tonight,” Steenhuis said post-game.

The root of Buffalo’s penalty problems wasn’t entirely clear, as the Bandits’ head coach and primary captain differed in opinion.

“I don’t want to be too harsh, but we’ve got to be one of the dumbest teams,” Kilgour said while shaking his head. “I don’t know what to tell these guys to get them to understand that we can’t take penalties. Two five-minutes killed us tonight—we had a power play at the end and could have tied it up, and we could have scored as many goals as we could have on that five because it was a match, but then we take a five, and then…Billy Dee. We can’t do that stuff against this quality of a team.”

Buffalo’s veteran defender and primary captain Scott Self wasn’t convinced that sheer stupidity was the problem.

“I think [the league has] tightened up the rules as far as head shots,” he said, “and we just haven’t adjusted—I don’t know that we’re undisciplined, but I think we’re overzealous at times on D because we are aggressive, but we need to be real careful when we make contact.”

Like a staggering amount of NLL games so far this year, the game tightened late, as Buffalo knotted the score at seven briefly on a clever long-range, side-winder shot from Aaron Wilson, conceded two quick Toronto goals, then Wilson completed his hat-trick on the power play to end the third down 9-8.

The Bandits roared back from the 7-2 deficit to score three unanswered at even-strength to close the first half. David Brock’s coast-to-coast foray started the surge, Nick Cotter’s rifle over a defender maintained the momentum and a beautiful pass from Mike Hominuck to unguarded Steenhuis shook Rose and suggested that Buffalo was the superior team at even-strength.

Newcomer Scott Evans—who Kilgour noted was incredibly out of shape—scored twice in the first half for the Rock, while Billings and Doyle each had four-point halves. In a season that’s consistently featured balanced scoring, five different Bandits beat Nick Rose in the first 30 minutes.

A colossal mistake by Smith—a five-minute major for an illegal crosscheck, then a two-minute cheap-shot for slashing after Evans scored on the initial delayed penalty (counts against the five-minute major’s three permitted PPGs)—put the Bandits on their heels for much of the quarter, and Toronto scored twice more on the seven-minute power play.

“Obviously me talking to isn’t going to change [Smith],” Kilgour said with exasperation. “I’ve been talking to him for 11 years. I’m sick of it, and I’m not taking it anymore. The five was bad enough, but to take the extra two on top of it is just bad lacrosse.”

The league’s assist leader Garrett Billings snapped a shot over two defenders and past a surprised Cosmo, and Colin Doyle faked Cosmo to the ground before flicking a pass to Manning for an easy quick-stick. The 7-1 spurt by Cordingley’s crew put Toronto in the driver’s seat, and despite one tie and shaky moments late, the Rock left the U.S. with a ‘W.’

Buffalo remains at home next weekend for a 7:30 p.m. game Saturday against Rochester. Less worried about the opponent, Buffalo has to become smarter internally.

“The good news is I thought that game was on us. I thought we outplayed them for a good amount of time, but at the same time, we made too many mistakes mentally to overcome,” Kilgour concluded.

(Header photo courtesy of Robin David Brown—see the full gallery from last night here).

TAGGED: billy dee smith, buffalo bandits, colin doyle, darris kilgour, major penalties nll, toronto rock, troy cordingley

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