Sunday night features the Bandits going down to Connecticut to face the New England Black Wolves. The Bandits have had only one road game heading into the weekend, but they will have had a road double header, squaring off in the Thruway Rivalry against the Knighthawks the day before. But as of now, the Bandits sit at 1-0 on the road while the Black Wolves are a comfortable 2-0 at home. Something will have to give in this exciting National Lacrosse League matchup.
It’s still way too early in the season to start thing about playoff implications, but let’s talk about playoff implications. Both of these teams are looking great early. The Bandits needed some time to get their legs under them, but are looking much closer to where their preseason expectations were. The New England Black Wolves on the other hand started their season with one of the toughest slates in the league. They’ve only played four games, but two were against Georgia, one against the Rush and also had to travel up to Calgary for the Riggers. Coming out of that with just one loss is a great start, but Buffalo is playing right at the level to consider this as just another grueling matchup. While this game likely won’t be part of the math to say if one of these teams is in or out, it likely will play into home field advantage discussions if they do both make it. With only one more matchup between them in April, getting a win now would be huge.
In terms of stats, this will be an interesting one. Buffalo is the highest scoring team in the league, but are about middle of the pack in total defense. Although, that offense was dealt a major blow when it was announced Josh Byrne was headed to the IR. New England on the other hand can keep up with Buffalo in scoring, but it’s their total defense that will need to hold up its end of the bargain, where they sit near the bottom of the league. Another interesting matchup is New England is bringing one of the best power play units to the floor with Buffalo’s league leading penalty kill unit. There will definitely be penalties in this game, so seeing which ones of these groups finds an edge could be a deciding factor.
As important as raw stats are, I think this game is going to come down to transition. Steve Priolo leads the league in defenseman goals for Buffalo, and they have never been a team to rely on set offense to make their scoreboard light up. This year is no different, and if the opportunity is there, they’ll take it. The New England Black Wolves on the other hand, is becoming heavily reliant on their transition game, and it a good way. In the past, it’s always been one or two defenders that became a threat. Now, it’s really spreading around and different players are getting looks in each game. With the Bandits, they’ll really need to use those odd numbers and high percentage shots to their advantage because of…
Matt Vinc going to Buffalo was probably the biggest trade of the offseason. Buffalo was really struggling finding consistency in net, and it’s hard to find anyone more consistent than Vinc over the past 10 years of NLL play. Even though New England’s offense is improving, relying on shooting alone to beat Vinc is going to make for a long night. Getting him in 1-on-1 situations like they did last week again Mike Poulin will be vitally important. Oddly enough, the same cause of the inconsistency Buffalo dealt with last year is now in net and being a great add for New England. Alex Buque is part of the split-time goalie setup in New England along with Doug Jamieson. The team would not say going into the weekend who the starter would be for this game. Their time has been split right down the middle and while Jamieson has the slight edge in raw percentage, Buque has the lower goals against average. Regardless of who gets the start in this one, don’t be surprised to see a switch if Buffalo puts a real run together. That is the major benefit of having two good options in net.
There is going to be a major elephant in the room when this games starts. It isn’t just that Buque was Buffalo’s goalie last year and was traded to New England, but also the bigger trade last year which sent Callum Crawford to New England for Shawn Evans. Evans was the face of the franchise in New England and had enormous fan support. But, as the team struggled on the floor, some of that support did fade and eventually Evans found himself closer to home in Buffalo. It will be really interesting to see how New England fans react to Evans being introduced this weekend. It will also be a slight preview of what’s to come in a few weeks when Kevin Crowley makes his return to the Mohegan.
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