Soaring Knighthawks coast into Buffalo
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 09, 2013 @ 1:55am
The Buffalo Bandits (3-2) will face another red-hot offense as the Rochester Knighthawks (2-3) barrel to town, fresh off a 20-10 road thumping of Philadelphia on Friday morning for Kids’ Day.
Here are the highlights from Rochester’s dominant performance, and you can see why Buffalo must be worried, even as hosts in front of boisterous home crowd.
If you thought the Doyle-Leblanc-Beirnes-Sanderson-Billings-Manning sextet for Toronto was menacing, Rochester’s offense is so loaded that Mike Accursi, a former Bandits’ fan favorite and one of the best off-the-ball players in the league, struggled to crack the rotation to begin the season.
By adding megastars Casey Powell and Dan Dawson to the roster of the reigning champions—who already boasted Cody Jamieson, Stephen Keogh and Cory Vitarelli—Rochester and head coach Mike Hasen started the season with a staggering three consecutive losses, falling to Washington and Buffalo each by a goal and then getting thumped 11-7 by Toronto. The Knighthawks then won a gritty 7-6 decision to avenge their earlier defeat to Washington before Friday morning’s offensive explosion.
While it’s easy to think that Buffalo’s defense is superior to the Wings’ turnstile back-door—Kyle Hartzell, C.J. Constabile and Jim Forsythe spent much of Friday afternoon lodged in quicksand—Anthony Cosmo (last in goals against average among NLL starting goalies) has given Buffalo fans little confidence that the Knighthawks’ firepower can be harnessed.
To make matters worse, the Bandits’ John Tavares will miss his second game in a row with a calf injury, a knock that Darris Kilgour mentioned that the team would be particularly careful with, especially in light of the fact that only one team misses the National Lacrosse League post-season.
A few keys to the game for Buffalo:
—Understand your foe: Joe Walters and Dan Dawson are the distributors and Powell, Jamieson and Vitarelli are finishers, so the Buffalo “D” must be quick in deciding which opponents to hedge and which to close out on quickly. Accursi’s movement and willingness to set screens instantly makes the Rochester attack more dangerous, so the Bandits must commit a big body—whether that’s Billy Dee Smith or Steve Priolo—to occupy the scrappy veteran.
—Stay out of the box: There’s no hiding that a lack of discipline and overzealous checking have been a weakness for Kilgour’s club, but the team has been slow to learn from their mistakes. Mental breakdowns and cheap high hits have unfortunately become commonplace for Buffalo, and it appears like referees are increasingly aware of the bullying Bandits. Rochester’s man-up unit—while not as unselfish as Toronto’s—is just as lethal.
—Intelligent shot selection: We’ve seen a lot of solo Mark Steenhuis forays the last few years, and to his credit, he’s trimmed the amount of times he stagnates the offense.
Luke Wiles has been the primary offender this year, but he’s returned to practice and may be sharper than his first five games. Without Tavares to bail them out late in the shot clock or in the second half, the rest of Buffalo’s attackers must be marksmen.
—Get Dhane going: While Rochester’s offense is exceptional when clicking, the defense is pretty pedestrian. Sid Smith and Paul Dawson are both tough, and Mike Kirk commands a lot of respect for his two-way game, but Rory Glaves, Scott Campbell and former Bandit Ian Llord must be exploited Saturday.
I don’t think any of the aforementioned Rochester defenders can shutdown Buffalo rookie Dhane Smith one-on-one, so it would behoove the Bandits to keep Billy Dee’s cousin thoroughly involved.
(Knighthawks photos courtesy of Dave Marino from last year’s final Bandits vs. Knighthawks clash; header photo via Robin David Brown from last week’s loss to Toronto).