Ready, Set, Go!
On again, off again is the tune for the Bandits as they continue this season’s odd regular season schedule, crossing into the second half of the season.
This officially game week in preparation for the Philadelphia Wings coming to town this Saturday for a 7:30 PM tilt. Then it’s another bye week (February 25).
Respectfully, Saturday night will be “Wing Night,” with the tasty treat readily available on the concourse, and; Wings of Banditland backdrop for photos, mascot race, trivia, and 26 Shirts will be selling Bandits/Wing shirt through their website.
GET YOUR TICKETS FOR WING NIGHT
East Team Jam
And while the Eastern Conference is top-heavy, with Toronto and Rochester matching the Bandits 7-2 record, the Wings are looking to make a strong push with two games in hand, inching towards a 500-record and then some.
Meanwhile, the Bandits are regenerating their three-game winning streak following the bye week, which truthfully has helped heal some nicks and bruises.
“I am finding this group has the necessary pieces to be a great team. On offense, we have our leading scorers, but they score because of the men around them,” said Bandits captain Steve Priolo.
“We have guys that statistically are not as impressive as the guys who score, but what they do is as important as putting the ball in the net.”
And that is attested on paper in terms of team and individual statistics as they swing into the second half of the season.
Goaltender Matt Vinc and the defense have played solid the first nine games, which includes holding their opponents to five one-goal quarters, four three-goal quarters, and three scoreless quarters.
Most of those, too, have come in the second half of play. That’s an average of just over 10 goals allowed a game, with four games, nine goals allowed or less.
Vinc has been consistent throughout each quarter, making a league-leading 380 saves for a .800 percentage. The eight-time goaltender of the year has faced 50+ shots in seven of nine games, including two 60+ shot games.
Too, Vinc is tops in league with Toronto’s Nick Rose and Rochester’s Dylan Hartley with a 7-2 record.
Notably, the Bandits lead the league in blocked shots with 50 (Steve Priolo with 11) and are second in the loop with 90 caused turnovers (Nick Weiss with 16).
“On defense, we have the pieces to be great. Loose ball guys, transition guys, support guys, and most importantly, everyone is willing to block shots,” said Priolo, who is third in NLL defenseman scoring (2+12=14).
“Blocking shots and giving vino shots he likes is the key to our defense. We don’t push out and look for caused turnovers, but for the most part, we play a tighter defense with some key guidelines.”
Shut the Front Door
Offensively this season, the Bandits have been a second-half team, coming from behind several times and outscoring their opponents 51-22 in six of the first nine games.
“We don’t need to get the prettiest goals ever. We need to make the ball go in the net; it’s a full team effort. From the defense up with transition goals,” said Brad McCulley, who has scored five goals on the front nine of the schedule.
“We have so many skilled players on this team who are very good with and without the ball.”
Dhane Smith enters the week as the NLL’s leading scorer with 19+53=72, seven points ahead of NY’s Jeff Teat. His 53 assists lead the league as well. The Great Dhane has 42 points in his last five games and is ten points ahead of last season at the turn.
The club is tied with New York with the best shooting percentage on the net in the league at 19 percent and Vegas with the best power play at 58 percent.
- Six Bandits players with double digits goals (Byrne 25)
- Nine players with double-digit points (Smith 72)
- 13 players with 20+ loosies (MacKay 69)
- 11 players with soakers (Priolo 11)
- 17 players with a caused turnover (Weiss 16)
“On defense, we are going into some tough games, and we need to keep repetitions together. We need to create that trust of support and off-ball help that has made us great in years past. Repetitions are key to any defense, and you need to become a single unit,” said Priolo.
With Connor Fields and Kevin Brownell gone, Chase Fraser and Chris Cloutier out of the lineup with injuries, the Bandits were down 41 net goals compared to the first nine games last season.
That number was quickly covered by the diversified scoring talents of 11 Bandit players, which included new goals scored by Brandon Robinson (13), Dulton Sulver (5), Brad McCulley (5), Joel Taylor (1), and Bryce Sweeting (1).
Byrne, MacKay, Buchanan, Weiss, Nanticoke, and Priolo, too, covered the deficit with their net goal improvement from last season’s first half. Overall, an eight-goal improvement.
With double duty out the front and back door, MacKay improved 12 points from last season’s first nine. Nick Weiss, on a nine-game point streak, is 11 points ahead.
“Our offense has a good mix of structure and freestyle, depending on which players are on the field,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares.
OK, enough of the quirky numbers and facts.
Can you hear me in the back?
Broadcast coverage of the Wings and Bandits game Saturday night from the Key Bank Center will be on ESPN+ and TSN+. The start time is set for 7:30 PM.
Radio coverage will be on 1520 The Bet. The Pregame show will start at 7 PM. We will chat with coach Tavares and go one-on-one with Dhane Smith.
Too, Philadelphia coach, Paul Day, will give an update on his club, and we’ll check in with newly acquired Mitch Jones.
Randy Mearns joins me in the booth, and Dave Buchanan between the benches.