Life is good for Anthony Cosmo and the Buffalo Bandits these days.
Buffalo takes a five-game winning streak into Saturday night’s game with the Rochester Knighthawks at the First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., Radio 1520 AM). If the Bandits make it six in a row, they’ll be on their longest victory run since 2007.
“Yeah, it seems things are working well for us right now,” Cosmo said. “Last week against Georgia, it took until the fourth quarter to put it together, but when it came we took advantage of it.”
It might not be a coincidence that the goaltender has been playing extremely well during this stretch. He earned all five of the victories in goal in this recent run of success. The 38-year-old has done some of his best work as a Bandit this season.
Cosmo’s goal-against average entering Saturday’s game is 11.86, which puts him in the middle of the pack in the National Lacrosse League. More important, though, is his save percentage of .786. That puts him third in the league. If he had stopped one more shot at any time this season, Cosmo’s save percentage would be at .789 − and that would make him the league leader in the category, just ahead of Evan Kirk of New England at .788.
“It’s a combination of things,” Cosmo said about his success this season. “There’s how I’m feeling, how the defense is playing, how we are feeling as a team. We’ve had some success all the way down the line. My defense is doing a great job. My tendencies and what skill set I bring to the game has allowed me to see the ball well. The defense is keeping guys down the wall and blocking shots, while the offense is protecting the ball, and not giving up balls quickly. From offense to defense, things have been really clicking.”
Speaking of good defense, the Bandits have taken a big step forward this season when it comes to penalty-killing. A goalie has been called a team’s most important penalty-killer, and Cosmo and his teammates have done a good job when down a man.
Buffalo leads the league in penalty-killing with a success rate of 61.5 percent. Compare that to last season, when the Bandits were sixth in the NLL when giving up the man-advantage. Opponents failed to score only 53.3 percent of the time on the power play in 2015.
“We’re not taking as many penalties; in the past we’ve been a penalty-ridden team,” Cosmo said. “Our defense sometimes got tired and in the third or fourth quarter let in some important goals. We’re becoming more disciplined. We’ve bought into the system. We’re playing mean but clean.”
Cosmo also knows that his offense is leading the league in goals with 187 in 13 games. Lacrosse goalies need to have short memories, since some shots are bound to get by them during the course of a game.
Cosmo realizes that if he gives up a “soft” goal, Dhane Smith and Co. are more than capable of making up for it.
“In the past, we’re had trouble scoring goals,” the goalie said. “Dhane is having a great year. He’s been so good. Mark Steenhuis has stepped up, and Anthony Malcom is giving Dhane some space on the floor. The lefties − Ryan Benesch, Daryl Veltman and Chad Culp − are also helping out.
“They’ve been wearing down the other team’s defense. They don’t take a lot of shots in the first 15 or 20 seconds. If it’s late in a close game, that just wears you down.”
All of those factors are a big part of the reason why the Bandits enter Saturday’s game with a 9-4 record. They can look at the standings and realize they are only a win behind Saskatchewan and Colorado in the overall race.
“You never stop dreaming,” Cosmo said. “Being a realist, we are only as good as we want to be. Parity here is so close, anyone can win. We have to be willing to sacrifice and dig in. How much are we willing to give up for the team? That’s what it will come down to.”
The veteran hasn’t been lucky enough during his 16 years in the NLL to start on teams that were considered title contenders. This squad has a chance to break that jinx, even though it’s premature to judge how much of a chance it has.
The Bandits could take a necessary first step toward playoff success this week. A win by Buffalo or losses by Georgia and Toronto would wrap up a playoff spot. When that comes, the Bandits’ goal shifts to staying as high in the standings as possible to earn valuable home games in the playoffs.
Still, nothing comes easily in the NLL. Rochester is an experienced team that is always dangerous, and is coming off two damaging losses last weekend.
“They know what it takes,” Cosmo said. “They’ll be back and hungry. What will we do to match that? How will we play? They aren’t far from not making the playoffs, so they’ll be desperate. We have to match their level of desperation.”