Rollercoaster ride for Bandits: Five who must step up
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • April 13, 2012 @ 8:00am
Buffalo’s 17-7 plowing of Philadelphia last Saturday caught almost everyone by surprise, frustrating the Wings into 40 fourth quarter penalty minutes. Usual top guns Dan Dawson, Drew Westervelt and Kevin Crowley were near invisible, totaling only two goals and four assists as a trio, while four Bandits notched hat-tricks in the cruise to victory.
Heading into the season’s final three regular season games, Buffalo faces foes also in the heat for playoff positions. In the NLL’s new crossover format, the fifth place team from the West can overtake the fourth place team in the East for the last playoff spot, so it’s imperative that the 5-8 Bandits fare well against the West. Here are the remaining games:
@Edmonton (4-8), Saturday at 9 p.m., NLL.com for viewing
Rochester (5-8), April 21 at 7:30 p.m. First Niagara Center (Fan Appreciation Night)
@Washington (4-9), April 28 at 10:30 p.m., NLL.com for viewing
To date, the Bandits have yet to face the Rush this season, split two games against rival Rochester and lost its only contest against Washington.
It goes without saying that John Tavares, Luke Wiles and Mark Steenhuis must be in form for Buffalo to reach the playoffs and make a run. Here are five other players who must be effective for the Bandits to avoid the embarrassment of being the lone team to miss the post-season:
1) Anthony Cosmo, goalie: The mid-season acquisition won NLL Defensive Player of the Week after the win over Philly, and he deserved it by stopping 46 of 53 shots in his direction. Not many of the saves were spectacular, but Cosmo frequently left his goal-line to challenge shooters and easily outplayed his counterpart goalies. Criticized in the past for pushing the boundaries in terms of equipment, Cosmo also had his pads measured in the third quarter and passed with flying colors. Firmly in a goalie rotation with Mike Thompson, Cosmo will certainly start at least one of the remaining three games, perhaps in a must-win situation.
2) Billy Dee Smith, defense: I’ve been a little harsh on Smith recently, but he was much stronger defensively against Philadelphia. Head coach Darris Kilgour could live without Billy Dee’s three minor penalties, but the 2012 All-Star wasn’t a disaster in one-on-one situations, perhaps buoyed by the fact that Philly boasts big, strong attackers rather than small and fast. Sure, Philly’s thorn-in-the-side Brendan Mundorf was scratched, but Smith’s physical play was a bonus last week. Keep it up, BDS.
3) Kevin Buchanan, forward: It feels like the same names are repeated over and over in these spots, but Buchanan’s four points (one goal, three assists) against Philly were actually a season-high. If you told me that in January, I would not have believed you. Though he’s often guilty of stagnating the offense with his solo forays against multiple defenders, he’s still an exceptional athlete—we just haven’t seen the production yet. How long will we have to wait? If Buchanan can get hot, Buffalo’s a much more dangerous team.
4) Jimmy Purves, utility: The Buffalo News’ Budd Bailey wrote a solid profile piece on the youngster last week, and Purves has infused youthful energy into an aging Bandits’ lineup when he’s active. Even though Kilgour called the 21-year-old out for being complacent with a demotion to the practice squad during the team’s losing skid, Purves found his way back in the coach’s good graces for the Philadelphia game.
5) Roger Vyse, forward: Vyse has struggled to stay in the lineup for two reasons: injuries and the crowded Bandits’ left side. The attacker with a heavy shot is a useful piece to the Buffalo offense, but Buchanan, Chad Culp and John Tavares have demanded the most minutes of the lefties. Has Vyse lost Kilgour’s trust? He’s appeared in only seven games of the team’s 13 games but has tallied 16 points.