Stock watch: Grading Buffalo Bandits at bye week
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 25, 2013 @ 10:24am
In most respects, the National Lacrosse League’s regular season is meaningless.
Only one of the nine teams fails to reach the post-season—Washington had the misfortune of earning that distinction last year—so the vast majority of the professional lacrosse clubs can endure tough losses without worry over a post-season absence.
This past weekend marked the Bandits’ only bye week of the season, a two-day stretch that saw East Division foe Philadelphia win back-to-back games to match Buffalo’s record at 4-3. Look to your right for the NLL standings to this point of the season.
Darris Kilgour’s club faces a strange mid-week back-to-back, home-and-away challenge this week: a Thursday road contest against Toronto and a Friday home meeting with Philadelphia (7:30 p.m., First Niagara Center, tickets).
While it’s not the exact midpoint of the Bandits’ season, the bye week gives us a chance to reflect on how Buffalo stands after seven games.
Total offense—Grade: B: The Bandits rank second in the East Division in goals per game (11.13), but would be dead-last if they were in the higher-scoring West Division (on average, a West team scores 12.55 goals per game). Kilgour’s team has only faced one West opponent so far, a 13-12 win at home over Minnesota, and five of the final nine games of the season are against the opposite coast.
There’s been considerable deviation from preseason expectations, as last year’s one-two punch of John Tavares and Luke Wiles hasn’t duplicated the scoring output from a season ago.
Out for the last three games due to injury, Tavares has mustered 14 points in four games, but he’s started to show signs of age on loose balls and movement in the offensive zone. He still has a knack for coming through in clutch situations, however, and the Bandits are still a more dangerous team with him in the lineup.
The 44-year-old will have missed a total of 32 days if he suits up Thursday in Toronto, ample time for the pain of his calf strain to subside. He’ll undoubtedly be eased back in, and we wouldn’t be shocked if he missed a few games late in the year—assuming Buffalo has a playoff spot locked up—to keep JT fresh for the postseason.
Righty attack: Aaron Wilson, Dhane Smith, Luke Wiles (pictured), Tracey Kelusky, Mat Giles (IR), Jamie Rooney (IR): Grade: B
Explanation: Aaron Wilson was a terrific addition by Bandits GM Steve Dietrich before his first season at the helm. Tied for the team lead in goals with 11, the savvy veteran is adept at moving off the ball and putting himself in threatening positions—he’s failed to score in just one game this season and has four multiple-goal outings.
Smith’s athletic gifts were evident to begin the season, and it took a few games before opponents adjusted to his lethal size-speed-shot combination. The rookie’s recent results, however, have been mixed—he’s pelted 52 shots in his last four games (41 on target) but managed only five goals.
Billy Dee’s cousin has pinged posts, sent vicious bouncers just wide and had a few quality opportunities blocked by defenders—but he hasn’t been able to convert one-on-one situations into goals like he did to begin the year.
Hopefully Wiles’ three-goal outburst against Rochester will boost his confidence and lead to more consistent production, as he’s fought through a long drought—presumably due to his inability to practice in Canada (a problem alleviated before the home Rochester game.) Game-winning goal against Rochester aside, Kelusky has been mostly invisible, flinging behind-the-back shots with reckless abandon and making relatively little impact.
Rooney and Giles may both be called upon later in the season once they return to health and other injuries force them into action—Giles, in particular, brings a steady veteran presence and a big body, but his hamstring has been maddeningly slow to heal.
Lefty attack: Shawn Williams, John Tavares, Chad Culp, Nick Cotter, Mike Hominuck, Carter Bender. Grade: B-
Williams, Culp and Hominuck have been the bright spots on the left side, as this six-some has produced 29 of the forwards’ 62 goals. Williams has proven to be a dynamite distributor, as he sits seventh in the league in assists per game (3.43) and regularly rewards teammates for cutting through the middle of the opponent’s defense.
Culp remains tough as nails and a vital role player—if not a go-to scorer. He’s feisty and relentless when it comes to scooping loose balls—his 39 are second on the team behind Jay Thorimbert and first among forwards.
Culp’s ability to create extra possessions simply makes his teammates better, and his immense value doesn’t always show up on the score-sheet.
Cotter’s athleticism and movement have been useful, but he’s needed a Tavares injury to have a chance on the active roster. Hominuck’s scored just once in his last three games after scoring six in his initial two tilts, and the newcomer needs to prove that he has other dimensions to his game if his scoring slump continues. Bender looked overwhelmed in his debut and may see more action if Tavares demands more rest late in the season.
Transition: Mark Steenhuis, David Brock, Jimmy Purves, Jon Harasym, Jay Thorimbert. Grade: A-
Explanation: The only thing that’s holding this unit back from an “A” is Purves’ and Harasym’s penchants for silly penalties.
In Buffalo’s more compact defense in the 10-6 win at Rochester, Steenhuis was impressively disciplined defensively—a trait that hadn’t been as apparent earlier in the year (esp. in the first meeting vs. Toronto). The vet hasn’t been staying on as frequently in 5-on-5 situations offensively, as it seems that Kilgour values Smith more in that role.
Thorimbert’s been the team’s unsung hero through seven games, bringing consistency to the face-off circle (57% win percentage) and corralling a team-high 58 loose balls. He’s the transition unit’s version of Chad Culp, essentially.
Brock’s surpassed Steenhuis has the most lethal transition scorer on Buffalo’s roster, and he’s a handful for opponents at both ends of the floor. Expect Kilgour to lean heavily on this unit as the season unfolds.
Righty defense: Scott Self, Steve Priolo, Kevin Brownell, Mike McNamara (IR): Grade: B.
Explanation: The loss of McNamara to injured reserve was tough for an already shallow side, adding more pressure on assistant captain Scott Self and more minutes for rugged Steve Priolo. Surprisingly, Priolo has acquitted himself well, showing toughness and resilience against a bevy of tough offenses. He won’t beat people in a footrace, dodge defender or thread any pinpoint passes, but he’s willing to battle and doesn’t back down.
Thorimbert has been solid on the defensive end, and you know what you’ll get from the reliable Self. Brownell showed potential in his debut, and we’re hoping he gets more chances as the season progresses.
Lefty defense: Billy Dee Smith, Derek Suddons, Glen Bryan, Hayden Smith. Grade: B-
Explanation: In a league with so many exceptionally talented and deep offenses, it must be miserable to be a defender when Dan Dawson, Drew Westervelt, Garrett Billings, Colin Doyle, Casey Powell and Kevin Crowley bear down on you week after week. I can’t say that the lefty defense has been spectacular, because the unit hasn’t.
Suddons took a few games to get adjusted to Kilgour’s rather complex defensive system, then fought off a bout with the flu. Billy Dee, after being the last Bandit to sign during training camp, was lethargic and a step behind until an inspiring effort against Rochester at Blue Cross Arena.
Bryan quietly has contributed a few big plays defensively, as his quickness has been a positive trait. He has a tendency to get pushed around, though, but that’s a consequence of the surplus of potent offenses and the dearth of high-caliber defenders.
Goalie: Anthony Cosmo, Kurtis Wagar, Scott Komer (no longer with team). Grade: B-
Explanation: Considering that Banditland was one more poor game from kicking Cosmo to the curb, perhaps this rating should be in the “Cs”. Then, Cosmo stonewalled a Casey Powell-less Rochester team, holding the still-powerful Knighthawks to only six goals en route to NLL Defensive Player of the Week honors. Ideally, Cosmo’s sterling effort is more than an anomaly out of desperation, instead a turning point that buoys the veteran net-minder and his surrounding defenders for the rest of the season.
Wagar’s been an upgrade over Angus Goodleaf in the backup role, as he’s already put out several fires this year and is reliable when called upon. Fortunately for Buffalo, Wagar’s back injury isn’t serious enough to warrant a long-term spell on injured reserve, as the Bandits signed and released CLax goalie Scott Komer after only a week with the club.
(Header photo courtesy of Robin David Brown from Buffalo vs. Toronto home game—see full gallery).