The Buffalo Bandits return home from their weekend-long Canadian getaway on Saturday night as they host the Philadelphia Wings at KeyBank Center. Faceoff is at 7 p.m. The Bandits will be looking to start a new winning streak as the five-game winning streak they rode into Toronto on Sunday afternoon was snapped by the Rock.
Toronto goaltender Nick Rose shut down the Bandits in the second half of Sunday’s contest at Scotiabank Arena and the Rock came away with a 13-9 victory. Matt Vinc made 35 saves in goal for Buffalo in defeat, while Matt Gilray led the Buffalo offense in points with five. Dhane Smith notched a hat trick and Josh Byrne scored twice in the loss.
For Buffalo, it was a tough end to a long weekend. The Bandits started their weekend away by flying to British Columbia and defeating the Vancouver Warriors, 15-8, on Friday night. The team then had to fly all the way back out east and prepare for an afternoon game against a division rival in a hostile environment.
The Bandits will now be happy to be back home, where they have a 3-1 record and rank second in the National Lacrosse League in goals scored (49) and goals per game (12.25) in front of the home fans. They will look to win their third in a row at home against a Philadelphia team that comes in with a 5-3 record. The Wings currently sit in second place in the East Division. This will be the lone meeting between these two teams in the 2019-20 regular season.
Philadelphia will be well rested as they have not played since January 31, a 12-11 home loss to the Georgia Swarm. The Wings were 4-2 overall in the month of January, moving them up to second place in their division.
The challenge for Buffalo will be trying to break through against a stout Philadelphia defense. The Wings are allowing just 8.9 goals per game, second fewest in the entire league. This has allowed Philadelphia to maintain a plus-20 goal differential, which is second only to Halifax (plus-21).
The Bandits will have to solve another tough netminder in Zach Higgins. The 29-year-old from Courtice, Ontario ranks third in the NLL in both goals-against average (8.83) and save percentage (.825). He has held opponents to under 10 goals in five of the eight games he’s started so far this season.
Higgins came to Philadelphia in an offseason trade from Buffalo. He posted a 13.26 goals-against average and .762 save percentage in 11 games with the Bandits between 2017 and 2019.
The Philadelphia defense is keyed by Trevor Baptiste, who is the league leader in loose balls (93) and faceoff wins (142). His .740 faceoff percentage is second best in the league.
On offense, the Wings are led by the duo of Kevin Crowley and Brett Hickey. Crowley leads Philadelphia in points with 42, which is sixth highest in the entire league. Hickey is Philadelphia’s leading goal scorer with 17, good for fifth best in the NLL. Matt Rambo is second on the Wings in points with 34 (10+24).
The Wings also have a player to watch for offense on the back end as Kiel Matisz leads all defense/transition players in the NLL in points (26) and shots on goal (51).
The Bandits, meanwhile, will be looking to get back on the winning track and reignite a powerful offense that was stifled in the second half against Toronto. The last time the Bandits were at home, they got an 11-point night from Smith in their overtime victory over Rochester on January 31.
Smith continues to lead the Bandits in points with 48, which is tied for second best in the league. He was held without an assist in the game against Toronto, but his 33 assists on the season are tied for the league lead.
Byrne continues to be among the league leaders in scoring as he enters the weekend ranked second in the NLL in goals with 23. He is also up to 40 points, which is second on the Bandits and seventh best in the entire league.
Though the offense dried up late in the game Sunday afternoon in Toronto, scoring has not been an issue at all this season for the Bandits. Buffalo leads the league in goals scored with 102.
The 12.8 goals per game Buffalo has scored are tops in the league, while their 56 shots for per game are third best, just ahead of Philadelphia’s 55.9.
With captain and defensive leader Steve Priolo out of the lineup the last two games with an injury, the Bandits have been helped immensely by the play of Ian MacKay and Mitch de Snoo on the back end. MacKay chased down a career-high 17 loose balls against Toronto on Sunday. It’s the most loose balls a Bandit has recovered in a single game since Vaughn Harris had 18 against the Georgia Swarm on March 18, 2018. MacKay also won double-digit faceoffs for the third straight game against Toronto.
Meanwhile, de Snoo continues his strong play on the defensive end for Buffalo, as his 15 caused turnovers are the second most in the league.
In goal, Vinc is now tied for the league lead in wins on the season with six. He has now made the fourth-most saves in the league this season (333) and sports a 11.67 goals-against average and .793 save percentage.
Following the game against Philadelphia, the Bandits will have a week off before preparing for a huge divisional matchup at home on Saturday, Feb. 29 when they host first-place Halifax at 7 p.m. The 6-2 Bandits remain behind 6-1 Halifax in the North Division standings. Halifax hosts Saskatchewan on Saturday night.
Tickets are on sale now for Saturday’s game against Philadelphia. Fans can enjoy Best Friends Night at KeyBank Center. The game can also be streamed on B/R Live and the radio broadcast will be available on ESPN 1520 AM and WGWE 105.9 FM in Salamanca.