With two wins against Halifax last weekend and Philadelphia on Thursday night, the Bandits have just one game remaining in their demanding stretch of four games in eight days.
Looking to end the stint on a high note, Buffalo heads out west to play the Colorado Mammoth at Ball Arena on Saturday.
Faceoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. for ESPN+ and 1520 AM.
Colorado heads into their three-game homestand with a 7-6 record, placing them in second in the West. The Mammoth started the season 5-1 but have cooled off. Since the beginning of February, they are 2-5.
Even with their recent struggles, Colorado plays very well at home, winning four of six games. Back on March 18 against Vancouver, the Mammoth netted seven fourth-quarter goals to force overtime and outlasted the Warriors in a 17-16 victory.
They’ve lost their last two games, both on the road, to the San Diego Seals and the scorching-hot Panther City Lacrosse Club.
To clinch the top seed in the East, Buffalo needs a win tonight over Colorado or for Toronto to lose to San Diego in their home game against the Seals tonight.
Here is everything you need to know:
1. Eyeing Potential MVPs & GOTY
Buffalo’s Dhane Smith and Colorado’s Ryan Lee have been on top of the MVP conversation all season long.
Smith enters Saturday with 70 assists and 105 points through 14 games, which are both tops in the NLL. The 2016 MVP has 26 points in his last three games.
Lee’s play hasn’t been as dominant compared to the start of the campaign, but the former RIT Tiger has put together a career year. He leads the Mammoth with 84 points, 23 more than his closest teammate, Eli McLaughlin.
Lee trails Smith in assists with 56, placing him just four ahead of Buffalo’s Josh Byrne. In Colorado’s first six games, Lee recorded 43 points (14+29), including two goals and 10 helpers in a win against Vancouver.
During the Mammoth’s 2-5 stretch, Lee has willed his team to victory with 20 points (6+14) in their wins while being limited to 21 points (8+13) in their losses.
Between the pipes, Dillon Ward has also been a key piece in Colorado’s success this season, with similar stats to Buffalo’s Matt Vinc.
Ward has played 11 games in net with a 6-5 record, .810 save percentage (third in NLL), and 493 saves (fourth in NLL). He has kept his squad in tight, low-scoring affairs, which was on full display on February 26 against the Saskatchewan Rush, saving a league-high 62 shots in the overtime loss.
2. Lack Of Familiarity
It’s common for teams in the NLL to have only a few regular-season games scheduled against non-divisional opponents. However, neither Buffalo nor Colorado have faced a team from the opposing division since opening weekend.
Buffalo hosted the Calgary Roughnecks in a rematch of the 2019 NLL Finals, and the Bandits got revenge winning 16-9.
The Mammoth got the better of Lyle Thompson and the Georgia Swarm in a 16-11 victory.
The last matchup between Buffalo and Colorado was on January 25, 2020, also at Ball Arena, which the Bandits won 13-12 in overtime.
3. Special Teams Breakdown
Saturday night could come down to who plays better on special teams, as both teams match well against the other on the power play and penalty kill.
Buffalo is more successful on the man advantage on the road, converting at a 60.7-percent clip in 28 attempts. Colorado’s kill is also near the top of the NLL, stopping 16 of 24 chances, ranking them third at home.
Considerably worse is Colorado’s power play, which is last at home at 28 percent. Buffalo’s ninth-ranked penalty kill is at 54.1 percent.
What could be interesting to keep an eye on is how successful each team is at scoring shorthanded goals. The Mammoth have nine shorties and look to utilize Buffalo’s struggles against Halifax last weekend, allowing three.
Buffalo has eight shorthanded tallies, and Josh Byrne is responsible for four of them, which is tops in the league.