Friday, May 31, 2019

Most/least Bandits goals allowed in three games (2012 to 2018-19)

We did this for goals scored a few years ago. What about the flip side?

It will take a while to do it all, but here's what we have for most goals allowed so far. Lots of work to do, but it is safe to conclude that the Bandits' defense was relatively sharp this past season:

Goals - Dates
56 - 4/15/17 to 4/29/17
53 - 3/23/13 to 4/6/13
51 - 2/19/16 to 2/26/19
50 - 12/8/17 to 12/30/17
49 - 12/23/17 to 1/6/18
49 - 3/29/13 to 4/13/13
48 - 3/16/13 to 3/29/13
47 - 4/14/18 to 4/28/18
47 - 2/3/17 to 2/19/17
47 - 2/14/16 to 2/20/16

Now for the fewest goals allowed:

Goals - Dates
24 - 12/28/18 to 1/19/19
24 - 3/23/19 to 4/20/19
25 - 4/5/19 to 4/27/19
25 - 2/8/14 to 3/8/14
25 - 2/15/14 to 3/15/14
26 - 1/27/19 to 2/9/19
26 - 2/1/14 to 2/15/14
27 - 4/11/15 to 4/26/15
27 - 4/7/12 to 4/21/12
28 - 2/9/19 to 2/22/19
28 - 3/5/16 to 3/25/16
28 - 4/16/16 to 4/30/16
28 - 4/25/15 to 5/2/15

Updated on May 31, 2019

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The 2018-19 Season

Buffalo reached the NLL finals for the first time since 2016.
The Buffalo Bandits knew changes had to be made for the 2018-19 season. They just didn't know what they needed to be.

The Bandits were coming off two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, which was unacceptable in Banditland. Buffalo was traditionally one of the leaders in attendance in the National Lacrosse League, and the team needed to win to keep the seats in the KeyBank Center occupied. When the previous season ended, the big questions centered on who would be on the roster, and who would be the coach?

At least part of the answer came relatively quickly. Steve Dietrich was told fairly early in the offseason that he would be back as Buffalo's general manager. Dietrich not only had to decide the fate of head coach Troy Cordingley and the rest of the staff, but get ready for the Entry Draft and the Expansion Draft as well as look at the free agent class.

Stocking the new teams was the first matter for the league's teams, as the expansion draft came in July. The teams took turns making picks - Philadelphia stuck to the East while San Diego picks players from the West - with each existing franchise losing two players. Dietrich completed some trades to get the results he wanted. He sent Zac Reid to Philadelphia; in return the Wings took Vaughn Harris in the expansion draft. Buffalo also acquired Bryce Sweeting, taken by San Diego during the expansion draft, from the Seals for Ethan Schott and a second-round pick later in the year.

The coaching situation dragged through the summer without resolution, and the delay rubbed some the wrong way. Word leaked out around Labor Day that Cordingley would not be back as the head coach. Even Cordingley that he needed a break from coaching at this point in his life. But, a replacement didn't turn up until September 20; actually "replacements" would be a better term. John Tavares and Rich Kilgour were named co-coaches of the team.

"We talked to many people and left no stone unturned to decide what was best for this franchise moving forward, when we decided we wanted to make a change. And everywhere we went, something kept pulling us back to the idea of promoting Richie and JT," Dietrich said to The Buffalo News later in the season. "They’ve been teammates for such a long time. They coached together with the Bandits and in the summertime."

 It was almost as if Dietrich realized that Kilgour and Tavares - two original Bandits - both deserved a chance at the job, and that hiring one might cost the team the services of the other. So both men received a share of the job. Kilgour and Tavares split responsibilities into defense and offense respectively, and they more or less alternated the job of talking to the media after the games. Cordingley landed a front-office position.

With that settled, the drafts awaited. Dietrich had indicated that he wanted to add good young players to the team, and this was an excellent chance to do just that. Buffalo had the third and fourth picks in the first round. There were rumors that the Bandits would trade up, but they stayed put instead and grabbed Matt Gilray and Ian MacKay on Sept. 25. Both would be on the roster for the entire season.

Players moves continued through September and October. For example, the Bandits traded Ryan Fournier to the New England Black Wolves for Matt Spanger. Adam Will was shipped to San Diego for a conditional pick. Ethan O'Connor came to Buffalo from Georgia for two future picks. But the scheduled start of training camp was delayed because of the lack of a collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners - something that had put other moves into the proverbial freezer.

Not much happened in the talks in the fall, and it became more and more obvious that the start of the season in early December was in jeopardy. In mid-November, the NLL cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season. That probably put a bit of a scare into all concerned, and the two sides reached an agreement about nine days later. The schedule was extended an extra week until the end of April, while the other week's games were slipped into the existing schedule.

Then on Nov. 27, just before the start of training camp, the Bandits announced that Matt Vinc had signed a three-year contract with the team. Vinc was considered one of the best goaltenders in NLL history, and he saved some of his best work for Buffalo over the years. Now the Bandits had solved a glaring weakness in their lineup. Vinc had been with the Rochester Knighthawks, a franchise that was scheduled to move to Halifax in the fall of 2019. The chance to play close to home in St. Catharines, Ont. - on a three-year contract - proved to be the right incentive.

“This was the hardest decision of my life that has impacted not only my family but everyone that has played a valuable role in my career,” Vinc wrote on Twitter after the announcement. “Ultimately I had to make the best long term decision for myself and my family.”

More from Vinc:

Buffalo also traded Mitch Jones to Vancouver for Corey Small. The deal fit the personal requests of both players, who wanted to play on the other side of the continent. So there were plenty of new faces on the opening day roster, but they did not include Mark Steenhuis. The veteran forward went on injured reserve just before the season, and never came off of it. A full explanation of his status was never given in a curious episode.

The Bandits were selected to be the opponents in the history of the new edition of the Philadelphia Wings on Dec. 15. The two teams were bitter rivals back in the 1990s. The Wings looked like a representative team in the opener, but Buffalo scored the final two goals to pull out a 17-15 win. Shawn Evans had the game-winner as part of a nine-point afternoon. But defense continue to be a problem a week alter, when the Bandits lost, 17-12, at home to Toronto on Dec.. 21.

“We had a great start, and that’s all it was,” Shawn Evans said. “We came out hot in the home building, but that’s all we did. We fell apart.”

The Bandits went back to the drawing board, made some adjustments, and came back right after Christmas to beat Vancouver, 18-10. An 8-1 burst in the second quarter more or less settled the outcome. Evans had 11 points and Josh Byrne added 10. Then Vinc slammed the door on his old teammates as the Bandits smothered Rochester, 13-4. The goalie stopped 55 of 59 shots in one of the great statistical performances in recent NLL history. That helped him pass Anthony Cosmo to set a league record for career saves.

“I think we did a great job,” Vinc said about the team’s defense. “There was a lot more communication than there was in the other games. We did a great job limiting their transition. They are a dangerous team with a good power play. We did a good job of limiting their time and space, and we pushed the ball pretty well and scored a couple of big goals in transition.”

Vinc set another record in his next game, breaking the NLL mark for minutes played by a goalie, in a 14-10 win over Philadelphia.  Buffalo blew a 7-1 lead and were tied 10-10 with about eight minutes left. Then the Bandits finished with four straight goals to move to 4-1. The three-game win streak died on Jan. 26 in Rochester, as Austin Shanks had seven goals as the Knighthawks took an 18-13 win.

That merely angered the Bandits, who immediately started another winning streak. Vinc was almost unbeatable again, allowing just five goals in a 15-5 romp at New England. Colorado was a tougher opponent, but the Bandits still came away with a 15-12 win. Dhane Smith had eight points in the winning effort.

“I struggled at first, but the points are going to come,” Smith said. “We’re not looking for me to shoot. It’s not how it used to be. Everyone is working with each other, and we’re getting great shots. It’s different, and it’s fun.”

After the Colorado game, the Bandits added some more young talent. They sent a future first-round pick in 2021 and Ryan Wagner to Philadelphia for Chris Cloutier. That meant the Bandits had the second, third and fourth overall picks from the 2018 draft on their roster.

Georgia, a rival in the NLL East, was supposed to be a good match for the Bandits, but Buffalo ran over them with a 19-9 win. Smith had 11 assists, while Evans finished with 10 points as the Bandits had a 70-41 edge in shots. Calgary was a handful in a Feb. 16 match, but Smith and O'Connor scored in the final seven minutes to break a 10-10 tie and give the Bandits a 12-10 lead. Cloutier made his debut for Buffalo in that game.

“It was awesome,” Cloutier said. “Growing up, I always came here for Bandits game. My friends said before the draft, if you have your choice, where would you like to go? I said, Buffalo. Now, it’s a lucky thing for me that I ended up here. I’m pumped to be here. With the leadership on this team, I’m going to learn a lot.”

About the only thing that could slow Buffalo at this point was a scheduling problem. The Bandits needed overtime to beat Philadelphia on March 8, with Chase Fraser getting the goal. But Buffalo looked weary a night later and saw its six-game winning streak end with a 14-9 loss to the Swarm. Five straight goals by Georgia in the second half put this one away.

“Some nights you’re the hammer, some nights you’re the nail,” Kilgour said. “We’ve been the hammer a lot this year, but tonight we were the nail.”

Again, it was time to stop the losing "streak" at one. Buffalo went into Saskatoon and beat the Rush, 12-11. Fraser again had the overtime goal. The Bandits came home on March 22 and  took part in one of the best duels of goalies in recent memory. Vinc and Nick Rose were both terrific, but Vinc earned the 8-6 victory.

“Rose, I don’t know how he did it tonight,” Byrne said. “He made one on (Jordan Durston) that was unbelievable. Vino was lights out as usual. When we let our guard down for a moment, our defense and goaltending were there.”

The Rock earned some revenge on April 5, scoring the final three goals - including one in overtime - to beat Buffalo, 12-11. It eclipsed a five-goal game from Smith But the Bandits bounced back two weeks later and stopped New England, 12-6. That handed Buffalo the division title and top seed in the playoffs.

“It’s huge,” Dhane Smith said about the first-place finish. “We haven’t done that since 2016 and it’s special. I knew from the beginning of training camp that we had something special. We came out and proved it. We had some lapses, but good teams find a way. Hopefully people can forget about the last two years. I know I have. Now we’re looking forward to the future.”

The last game of the season was therefore moot, but the Bandits won it anyway over San Diego, 18-7. Evans had eight points and Fraser finished with six. Buffalo finished the regular season 14-4. Smith had 102 points (fifth in the NLL) and Evans wound up with 94 (tied for seventh). Small led the team in goals with 36, while Thomas Hoggarth and Fraser added 29 each. Steve Priolo was second in the league in scoring among defensemen with 26 points, and may have had the best all-around season of his career. Vinc finished with 14 wins, a 10.02 goals-against average and a .803 save percentage - all the best figures among starters in the league.

As a team, Buffalo scored 244 goals, most in the league. It gave up 186, the fewest in the league. The Bandits were 7-2 at home and 7-2 on the road; they were 9-4 against the East and 5-0 against the West. The team was first in power-play goals with 46 (third in percentage) and first in penalty-killing percentage. The Bandits were second in the league in attendance

There was no first-round bye in the playoffs this season, as the NLL changed the format so that eight of 11 teams reached the postseason. Buffalo drew New England in the first round on May 4. The Bandits scored three goals in the first three minutes and never looked back to win, 12-6. Smith finished with seven points. Here are the highlights:

The East Division final took place a week alter, and Toronto was back in town for it. The Rock had won two of the three regular-season meetings between the teams, making this one a potential toss-up. It was a game of runs, but Buffalo had the last one - four straight goals in the fourth quarter to pull away to a 12-8 victory. Small had three goals and Smith finished with five assists.

Plenty of highlights here:

That led to a slightly surprising matchup with the Calgary Roughnecks in the final. Calgary had finished in a tie for second in the West at 10-8, but had won two games to reach the title round. The Roughnecks' only championship came at the expense of the Bandits in 2004.

The offenses started slowly in this game, as Vinc and Christian Del Bianco smothered everything that came their way. The score was 2-2 at the half, setting a record for fewest goals in the half of a championship round game. But Calgary scored three straight goals at the end of the third quarter to take a 5-3 lead, which felt like a huge margin under the circumstances.

“Putting in a couple in a row took some weight off our shoulders,” Duch said. “It’s the Buffalo Bandits. That’s a team that can score goals in bunches. We knew the lead wasn’t safe, but at least it let us take a deep breath.”

The Roughnecks increased that lead to 9-4 with 10 minutes left. Buffalo reduced that margin to two goals but could get no closer, and Calgary departed with a win in the first game of the best-of-three series.

 “We obviously wanted to win this game,” Small said. “We had a great crowd tonight that our backs, but we let one go. Fortunately for us, the way this playoff goes, it’s a best-of-three series. We have the opportunity to go home, watch some film, and get ready for the next game. We seemed to answer losses well this year, so we’ll have another opportunity to bounce back here.”

The two teams headed to Calgary on May 25 for Game Two, and they played a classic. Neither side could hold a lead for long, and the two squads were a combined 9 for 10 on the power play. The Bandits got three goals in a row to close the third quarter in a 10-10 tie. Calgary notched two goals to take a 12-10 advantage; Buffalo got those back on goals by Jordan Durston and Smith. Dane Dobbie put the Roughnecks in front with 55 seconds left, but Small tied the game at 13-13 with 28 seconds left.

The thrills continued in overtime. Buffalo just missed a flurry at the beginning of the extra session. Calgary then came down the floor on its first possession of overtime. Here's the fans' view of what happened next:

Rhys Duch scored the game-winner for Calgary, and Buffalo's season was over. The finals looked a great deal like the 2016 version from a Bandits' perspective. They had home field in the first game and lost it. Buffalo fought back in Game Two on the road to be in a position to win, but fell short on the last significant moment of the game.

Evans and Smith finished with seven points each for the Bandits, who rediscovered their scoring touch in Game Two of the series. But the Roughnecks were a little better on this night.

It had been a very good season for the Bandits, and they look like a team that will be good as long as Vinc is on top of his game. The young players will only get better, and veterans like Smith and Priolo should remain as the leaders. Still, Buffalo's wait for a championship, last won in 2008, continues in its second decade. 

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