There were no late-game heroics for the Buffalo Bandits like their previous game against the Saskatchewan Rush this season, when the team mounted a seven-goal comeback. The Rush showcased their offensive chemistry and got a strong performance from goalie Evan Kirk in a 16-10 victory against Buffalo at KeyBank Center on Friday night.
The Bandits never led, while Saskatchewan was able to string together a handful of offensive runs.
"It's the second game at home in a row we laid a goose egg," Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. "Our offense first half dropped balls. It looked like the first time we were out in training camp. Missed assignments on defense."
Buffalo has lost three straight games after riding a four-game winning streak to the top position in the East Division standings. Now, the 6-6 Bandits are tied with two other teams in second place in a division separated top to bottom by a game and a half. Cordingley said the streakiness of the season is maddening.
"It's the rollercoaster, right?" Cordingley said. "There's so much potential. I know we're young, but that's an excuse. ... We're in the tightest division battling for our lives for a playoff spot. We don't care which one it is. We just want one and we show up like that? That's disheartening."
Compete level was the buzz word from the Bandits postgame, especially from Cordingley.
"We have to have a better effort," Cordingley said. "We're not going to make the playoffs playing like that, going through the motions, no sense of urgency. The complete level I thought wasn't very good. Maybe we gave Saskatchewan too much respect. I don't know what it was, but that's not the way the Bandits play."
"We didn't focus on the little things like loose balls and teams like those will take us away," forward Dhane Smith said.
Of course, the Rush had something to do with the Bandits' struggles as well. Saskatchewan, currently in first place with an 11-2 record, has the deepest roster in the National Lacrosse League. Their air-tight defense is difficult to best and game planning against their offense, which features three former first-overall picks, is nearly impossible. You never know which one of the weapons will step up. On Saturday, it was Robert Church, who had six goals and two assists.
"They play hard," Cordingley said. "They're cutting through the middle. They're doing things for each other out there."
The Bandits and Rush traded a pair of goals to start the game, but Saskatchewan started to pull away late in the first quarter with a three-goal run. The Rush scored three straight again, with two coming in the second and one in the third, to stretch the lead to 10-4 halfway through the third. Buffalo failed to cut the deficit to under five goals the rest of the way.
One of the main bright spots for the Bandits was Shawn Evans, who made his KeyBank Center debut. Evans scored his first goal in the orange and black a minute and a half into the game, breaking through the middle of the Saskatchewan defense and beating Kirk top corner. He added two more back-to-back late in third.
"I felt like I hit the spots I wanted to hit," Evans said. "I obviously want to do more, but it's one of those games where the bounces aren't going your way."
Smith led the team with three goals and three assists.
The Bandits play the Georgia Swarm, the only team behind them in the East Division, on the road on Sunday at 4:05 p.m.
"We've got to regroup," Smith said. "I know they are going to be hungry because we beat them by a lot in our barn."