The Buffalo Blizzard is enjoying big success at both scoring and blocking the National Professional Soccer League's "little" goal.
No NPSL team has performed better at the combination of scoring and blocking the one-on-one play awarded when a player is sent to the penalty box. (A shoot-out goal is worth only one point, but sometimes -- as in last Sunday's 9-8 win in Edmonton -- it makes a big difference.)
Buffalo forward Andrew Crawford, the NPSL leader with 14 one-point goals (power-play goals also count for a single point), enters tonight's Marine Midland Arena game against the Detroit Rockers (7:30, Radio 107.7), with an 8-of-12 shoot-out record.
And Blizzard goalkeeper Bill Andracki, who has saved 7 of 11 shoot-out attempts, ranks No. 2 in NPSL shoot-out defense.
Both players say their success in the play -- where the shooter starts from 50 feet away and has five seconds to get the ball in the net -- is the result of paying attention to the little things.
"I'm looking to see what the goalie's going to give me," said Crawford, who scored two shoot-out goals Sunday, including the game-winner with 2:54 left.
"Usually you give yourself two or three options, different places you can shoot. And whatever one the goalie gives you a better chance of scoring, that's the one you take," Crawford said.
"Basically I just read what the goalie does. If the goalie comes out hard and takes down the angle, you want to try to dribble him. Or if he comes out really slow, you go closer and give yourself a better shot."
Andracki said "I try and do my homework on the shooter. If I know what he's going to do, through films or from playing against him, I'll try to take away the side he likes to go to. If he's a left-footed shooter, I'll come out and try to take away my right side. . . . If I know what they're going to do, I'll try to take away that side that he likes to go to.
"If I don't know what they're going to do, I'll just come as soon as the whistle blows just as hard as I can to the top of the box and take away the near post and just cut down as much angle as possible and just react from there," he said.
Coach Carlos Salguero said Crawford's confidence won the shoot-out job.
"You have to take the shoot-out with confidence," Salguero said. "I used to do the shoot-out when I used to play and I was the confidence guy on the team, so I used to take every one.
"I believe Andrew is doing a good job. . . . All the goalkeepers know what he's going to do, but no one can save those ones."
Tonight's game promises to be especially interesting for shoot-out aficionados. Detroit's roster includes recently activated Dennis Brose, an all-star forward who scored on 27 of 46 shoot-out attempts last year, and goalkeeper Bryan Finnerty, who leads the league in shoot-out save percentage.
"I think Dennis Brose has got a good shoot-out. He touches it and he whaps it," Andracki said.
Andracki said Brose -- whose eight goals in one game last season is a Blizzard-opponent record -- is the kind of player who shoots from everywhere.
"You've always got to be ready for the shot. He takes weird kind of shots off the boards and at tough angles. He's going to hit the ball every time," Andracki said.
Crawford beat Finnerty twice in the Blizzard's 20-6 win here on Nov. 16 and was stopped once in Detroit's 17-14 win at Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 29.
"If I've faced a goalie two or three times, I'll do something different, something he's not going to expect," Crawford said.
"I don't know what I'm going to do against him yet. I've got three or four different shoot-outs."