By Chris Ryndak - Bandits.com
No one is very happy in Banditland right now.
The club suffered its franchise-record fifth consecutive loss on Saturday, falling to the Colorado Mammoth, 16-13, in front of 15,845 at First Niagara Center. The loss drops the Bandits' record to 2-5 but they remain only 1.5 games behind first-place Toronto in the East Division.
Luke Wiles continued to carry the offense with four goals and an assist, giving him a team-high 18 goals on the season.
Tracey Kelusky scored three goals for the Bandits including two big goals in the third quarter and Mark Steenhuis had his best offensive outing of the season, registering a goal and six assists. John Tavares added a goal and four assists.
It was a close, back-and-forth affair like many of the Bandits games this year, but Buffalo's offensive output couldn't hold Colorado back. The Mammoth went on a few runs and put in another goal to extend a lead whenever the Bandits seemed to get within a goal or two.
Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour was adamant in the fact that his defense hasn’t been good enough during this losing streak. The coaching staff changed some schemes and philosophies during the team’s 19-day hiatus between games but that hasn't seemed to fix the problems the defense has been having.
“Until we fix the defense, we’re going to be a bad team and we are a bad team right now,” Kilgour said.
John Grant Jr. put on a show for the Mammoth (7-1). The NLL’s leading scorer this season extended his goal and point totals with four goals and five assists. Grant’s final goal put him at 500 for his career. He's the third player in NLL history to reach that milestone.
“He’s a tough player. He’s not the best in the world for no reason. He’s one of the best shooters in the game and had my number tonight,” said Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo. “Usually he and I have a good battle but tonight he seemed to win it.”
Cosmo made 31 saves on 46 shots in his first NLL game since April. He was pulled with 9:49 left in the fourth quarter in favor of Mike Thompson.
Rookie Adam Jones contributed a goal and six assists and Derek Hopcroft scored four times with an assist as well for Colorado. Gavin Prout had seven points in the winning effort (1+6).
The Bandits kept Mammoth goaltender Chris Levis busy. Levis stopped 47 of the Bandits’ 60 shots on goal.
“I’ve got no complaints with the offense this year,” Kilgour said. “Our scoring is up and our goals against is way up. I had no complaints with the offense [although] I thought they got a little selfish in the fourth quarter. They tried to do a little too much on their own.”
The Bandits put pressure on the Colorado defense but only scored one goal in the fourth quarter. Wiles isn’t quite sure what held the offense back late in the game.
“We get stagnant sometimes. I can’t really put my finger on it. We haven’t really been able to figure that out,” Wiles said. “I think once we do, that’s going to be a big thing to get us up to 16, 17 [goals]. Thirteen [goals] is a little bit of an improvement but we needed 17 to win tonight.”
It was a physical affair for most of the first half. At the 4:23 mark, a scrum broke out along the boards to the right of Levis that had all of the players on the floor paired up. Cosmo made a save on Colorado’s next rush that led to a fast break for the Bandits. Steenhuis buried his opportunity and gave the Bandits a 1-0 lead 4:56 into the affair.
“We always want to be a physical team. We want to be the most physical team in the league but we can’t take stupid penalties,” Kilgour said. The Bandits took 14 penalty minutes in the game and the potent Mammoth power play went 4-for-6 on the night.
Colorado came right back on their next rush to tie the game on Hopcroft’s first goal. Then 19 seconds later, Mat MacLeod gave the visitors the lead. Following some penalties, including matching slashing calls to Bandits captain Chris White and Adam Jones, Kelusky scored his fifth of the season to tie the game. Chad Culp would give the Bandits a 3-2 lead to close out the first quarter at the 12:38 mark.
The Bandits’ lead would not last long as Colorado scored four straight goals on Cosmo to open the second quarter. Down 6-3, Wiles scored his first of three goals in the quarter to cut the deficit down to two. Sean Pollok would give the Mammoth their three-goal lead back before the Bandits put together a string of goals to close out the half.
At the 11:07 mark, Scott Self took the ball down the floor and beat Levis as his defenders were caught making a line change. Wiles made it a 7-6 game as he came in from behind the net to beat Levis. Tavares, the Bandits leading scorer this year, tied the game with 1:47 to play and Wiles made it 8-7 to give his team its first lead since the end of the first quarter with 1:09 to go.
Wiles finished the night with a team-high 13 shots on net while Tavares fired 11 on Levis.
“We kind of got away from me in the fourth quarter. I don’t think that made us lose. I believe that we just aren’t finding ways to win,” Wiles said. “Sometimes when you don’t find ways to win… you grip your stick a little tighter, you’re not as confident and the balls don’t fall for you. We'll get better though.”
Cosmo made two big stops while the Bandits were shorthanded in the dying seconds of the half. The Bandits out-shot the Mammoth, 32-26, after two quarters.
Colorado came out strong in the second half, scoring two goals in the first 1:27 of the third quarter. Grant Jr. scored his third of the game and it was followed up right after by Hopcroft’s second of evening.
Kelusky scored a pair of goals to tie the game at 10 but the Mammoth attack stormed on. Jordan McBride and Cameron Holding scored nine seconds apart to put Colorado up, 12-10.
Wiles heated up again as he put the Bandits within one with his power play goal with 3:06 to play in the third quarter. However, as has happened so often this season, the opposition scored a quick goal on the very next rush. Grant Jr. scored his fourth with 1:37 left but Roger Vyse matched the effort 21 seconds later. Buffalo entered the fourth quarter trailing by a goal.
They wouldn’t trail for long, however. Culp scored his second of the game 32 seconds into the final quarter to tie the game, 13-13. They also wouldn’t be tied for much longer, either. Hopcroft regained the lead for Colorado at the 4:07 mark. He would score again to give the Mammoth a two-goal lead, which prompted a goaltending change from the Bandits coaching staff.
After Hopcroft’s goal with 9:49 to go, Thompson came in to relieve Cosmo. Thompson made four saves and allowed one goal, an empty netter.
“I said it before the game and I’ll say it now, it’s not the goaltending. It’s our defense,” Kilgour said. “…I’m not going to hang Cosmo out any more than I did. I probably left him in for three goals too long.”
With 1:43 to go, forward Kevin Buchanan was stopped point blank by Levis. The Bandits then came up on a rush for their last offensive possession, but according to Wiles and Kilgour, Tavares took a bad shot too soon and the ball ended up in the Bandits own net to ice the Mammoth victory with 17 seconds left.
The Bandits next play in Rochester on Saturday, March 10. Face off from Blue Cross Arena is scheduled for 1 p.m.