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Bandits defense struggles again in blowout loss to Toronto

TORONTO -- The Buffalo Bandits may have a defensive problem.

Last week's 21-11 loss to the Rochester Knighthawks could be written off. The K-Hawks are one of the hottest offenses in the league, burying both the Bandits and Calgary Roughnecks in their first two games.

But after allowing 20 goals again, this time in a 20-13 loss to the Toronto Rock Saturday, there's some cause for concern.

"I actually liked our defense for half of the game, and the other half we're sporadic," Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. "Our biggest problem here is decision making. ... Some guys have been here three or four years that are making wrong decisions."

For a second straight week, the Bandits were heavily outscored despite outshooting their opponent. Rochester scored on 42 percent of its shots on goal. Saturday, Toronto scored on 38 percent. Canisius College graduate Adam Jones was particularly successful picking apart Buffalo, notching four goals and five assists.

The team held a players-only meeting in the visiting Air Canada Centre locker room. Cordingley and captain Steve Priolo spoke alone, attempting to conjure up tactical moves to fix the Bandits' woes.

"The room is good," Priolo said. "Everyone is pointing at themselves. No one is pointing at each other."

Compounding on the defensive struggles are the questions at goaltender, which seemed to be answered after Alex Buque's stellar opening-game victory against Toronto on Dec. 8. Since, he's been pulled in the first quarter in two straight games. He only returned to action last week because Davide DiRuscio suffered an injury a minute after Buque was pulled.

Against the Rock, he was yanked in favor of Zach Higgins, who has NLL experience but was out of a job until the Bandits signed him Tuesday. Higgins made 33 saves on 45 shots in his Buffalo debut. Buque finished with eight saves and seven goals allowed.

"We still believe in Buque and we still believe in Higgy," Cordingley said. "We've got to be better defensively in front of them. We've got to dictate shots, and tonight Toronto dictated shots."

Priolo noted the team has plenty of time to get out of this rut. Buffalo is 1-2 three games into an 18-game season. There isn't much of a hole to dig out of, as the Bandits are in a tie for the third and final playoff position in the East Division.

With the stark changes from last year's roster, some early season struggles aren't surprising. Buffalo worked in four new faces to the defensive unit and expanded others' roles. The Bandits haven't even seen the same lineup in their first three games, either. Zac Reid replaced an injured Reid Acton last week. Acton returned Saturday, but Reid stayed on the active roster because of an injury to Ryan Wagner.

Plus, the Bandits have dealt with a few unlucky bounces.

"How many floaters bounced off somebody and went in?" Priolo said. "Get rid of about four or five of those, and you've got a different game. ... The lacrosse gods, I'm telling you, they're real. We're really in a hole."

Offensively, the Bandits were paced by Callum Crawford, who had three goals and two assists to reach 800 career points. He only found the net twice through two games, making this his most successful outing since the Bandits traded for him in the offseason.

"It's hard to enjoy those things when you're losing at the end of the game," Crawford said.

Four Bandits scored twice: Mitch Jones, Dhane Smith, Mark Steenhuis and Josh Byrne. Smith and Jones had five and four assists, respectively.

Next week, Buffalo hosts another team struggling out of the gate in the Roughnecks. The Riggers are also 1-2 after falling 11-7 to the Colorado Mammoth on Friday.

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