Buffalo Bandits goalie Alex Buque and the entire defensive unit entered Saturday's game against the Calgary Roughnecks with plenty of uncertainty after a pair of disastrous performances the past two weeks.
Buffalo was blown out twice on the road, falling 21-11 to the Rochester Knighthawks on Dec. 23 and 20-13 to the Toronto Rock on Dec. 30.
Buque was pulled in the first quarter of both outings, most recently exiting the Toronto game after allowing seven goals on his first 15 shots faced. He didn't resemble the player who made a strong first impression with 55 saves in the season opener.
Buffalo's starter decided to go back to the basics and based on his performance Saturday, it worked.
"That's finding myself," Buque said. "It's getting back to the same routines that I've always had. Whether it's meals, sleep, flight adjustments, the little things."
Buque shut the door, bailing out the Bandits on a number of occasions in a 13-8 victory against the Roughnecks. He made 44 saves on 52 shots as he held the Riggers a goal under their season average.
"First couple of games, they didn't go as planned," Buque said. "It's all about adapting and bouncing back."
It's a vital return to form for the Bandits, who acquired the promising 25-year-old keeper from the Colorado Mammoth this offseason. Buque showed flashes as Dillon Ward's backup over three years in Denver, making him a strong option to replace recently retired Anthony Cosmo.
Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said he was pleased with the young starter's ability to mentally handle hurdles.
"I'm not going to pretend I know anything about goaltending because I don't," Cordingley said. "They're different guys. I tried to stay away from him. We as a team know what he can do, and he did that tonight."
Captain Steve Priolo and forward Callum Crawford said the locker room was stable after the loss to Toronto, but the team did hold a players-only meeting in the Air Canada Centre. Cordingley openly criticized the players' effort last week and said the pair of poor performances weighed on him as he celebrated the holidays.
After analyzing the recent letdowns, Cordingley wasn't focusing on simply bringing down the opposing goal totals.
"Our goal was having the 19 guys that were dressed give us an honest effort and play hard for each other," Cordingley said.
"He just wanted us to buy into the program," Buque said. "It's 100 percent effort that we put out."
Buffalo never trailed in the game, getting out to an early 5-3 lead after the first quarter thanks to a pair of tallies by Dhane Smith.
The Roughnecks were given a prime opportunity to get back into the game down 6-3 late in the second, as Crawford took a five-minute penalty for an illegal body check. Calgary wasn't able to capitalize, allowing a shorthanded goal and scoring only once on the man-up opportunity.
Jordan Durston scored to give the Bandits an 8-5 lead early in the third, and Buffalo held on to at least a three-goal deficit the rest of the way. The Bandits pulled away in the fourth thanks to a game-closing 4-2 run.
Crawford had four goals and an assist, while Smith scored three times and dished out two assists.
Durston, who came into the game with two goals on the season, netted his first hat trick as a Bandit.
"I like to give my teammates all the credit for that, finding me in good spots," Durston said.
The Bandits started the game with a shorthanded offensive unit, opting to sit forward Pat Saunders in favor of defenseman Ethan Schott. The bench got even shorter when rookie forward Chase Fraser left the game with injury. Cordingley did not have an update on his status.
The offense responded well to the added floor time, often creating changes through transition.
"They like that because they get more touches," Cordingley said. "They get out there all the time. They're more into the game. You could see it."
Schott, one of two 2017 second-round picks on the Bandits roster, made his NLL debut. He snagged seven loose balls and only had one turnover.
"A 21-year-old kid, going out there and playing his first NLL game," Cordingley said. "He was nervous, but that kid is all effort. That's how he made our team. He would do anything, and that's what he did tonight."
After going nearly a month between home games, the Bandits will be back in the KeyBank Center again next week. Buffalo hosts the Vancouver Stealth Saturday at 7:30 p.m.