January 23, 2014

Buffalo-Rochester Highlights NLL Weekend Slate

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Buffalo and Rochester have been among the NLL's best so far, with just one loss between them going into Saturday's showdown. (NLL.com Photo)

There are only three NLL games this weekend and all are on Saturday night. Rochester and Edmonton will try to remain undefeated, while Philadelphia, Minnesota and Toronto have byes. Here are the matchups (all times ET, all games on YouTube.com/TLN)

ROCHESTER (3-0) at BUFFALO (3-1), 7:30 p.m.

Both teams have won three in a row so flip a coin on who'll win this battle for first place in the East.

''We're in for a big test because Buffalo is playing well,'' says Rochester coach Mike Hasen.

''First place on the line in Banditland _ always a tough place to play,'' says Knighthawks defenseman Scott Self.

''It's the litmus test,'' says Bandits GM Steve Dietrich.

Rochester plays its first road game after mowing down Minnesota 8-6, Philadelphia 13-9 and Toronto 12-8 at home.

Buffalo has tightened up defensively since opening with a 17-13 home loss against Philadelphia. The Bandits have won 12-10 at home over Toronto, 12-11 at Philadelphia and 16-9 at Colorado.

''It was one of our more complete games,'' defenseman Billy Dee Smith says of the win in Denver.

''Our defense and transition game are really starting to gel,'' says Dietrich.

The last time these teams met, in the last game of the 2013 regular season, Craig Point scored four goals in a 10-9 Rochester win that ended Buffalo's hope of making the playoffs. It's not a loss the Bandits have dwelt on.

''Anytime you play a two-time champ like Rochester, that's enough motivation,'' Smith added during the NLL's weekly conference call Wednesday. ''We'll be fired up no matter what. We know they're the best in the league right now.''

The Matt Vinc-Anthony Cosmo goaltending duel will be something to see.

''Coz is playing really, really well . . . and their defense is feeding off of that,'' Self said.

Buffalo captain John Tavares is expected to be back in the lineup after missing the trip to Denver with a minor leg injury.

Ryan Benesch and Joe Resetarits have given his offense a new dimension, says Dietrich.

''That causes a bit of chaos for the defenses we're facing,'' he said.

COLORADO (1-5) at CALGARY (2-2), 9 p.m.

Colorado split its first two games, both at home, losing 13-10 to Edmonton and defeating Vancouver 13-12, and has lost its last four: 13-11 at Calgary, 17-6 at Edmonton, 14-13 in OT at Vancouver and 16-9 at home against Buffalo.

''We're disappointed with our weekend. It's not what we envisioned,'' said Colorado coach Bob Hamley. ''We're past a tough part of our schedule _ four games in eight days _ and now we can focus on this one.''

Calgary lost 16-11 in Toronto, won 13-11 at home versus Colorado, lost 15-8 at Edmonton, and won 15-12 at home against Vancouver.

''We got our offense back on track,'' said coach Curt Malawsky.

Calgary should remain perfect at home in a shootout between the two teams with the worst goals-against averages. Colorado captain John Grant Jr. will beg to differ.

''We've been giving up (opposition scoring) runs quite a bit,'' Grant said. ''We have to stop them quicker than we have been.''

But he's concerned mainly with the offense.

''We're just not playing well enough,'' Grant said. ''We've got to get our behinds in gear and take a run at this thing.''

Malawsky says Colorado is better than its 1-5 record suggests.

''We're not taking them lightly by any means,'' he said.

''Our guys have battled really hard,'' said Hamley. ''We've just got to cut down on some mistakes and stick with our game plan no matter what the score is.''

EDMONTON (3-0) at VANCOUVER (2-2), 10 p.m.

Edmonton's three wins have been decisive: 13-10 at Colorado, 17-6 at home versus Colorado, and 15-8 at home versus Calgary.

There's no chance, however, of Rush players getting inflated egos with level-headed GM-coach Derek Keenan calling the shots.

''We just want to keep trying to get better,'' says Keenan.

Vancouver lost 13-12 at Colorado, won 8-5 at home versus Minnesota and 14-13 in OT at home versus Colorado, and lost 15-12 at Calgary.

''We played pretty well in Calgary,'' said Vancouver coach Chris Hall. ''Some things just didn't go our way. Am I happy with a split? I probably am. It's nice to win them all but certainly coming away with a split was okay.''

The last time these teams met, the Stealth overcame a 7-2 halftime deficit to defeat the Rush 12-11 in last spring's West semifinal in Everett, Wash.

''They've got some new pieces on their offense that make them better,'' Keenan said. ''We're going to have to be at our best.''<

His improvement plan seems to be working.

''Our team has got better each game,'' says forward Curtis Knight.

The play of Stealth rookie Tyler Digby continues to draw raves.

''He's amazed me how poised he is,'' says Keenan.

The Stealth defense will have its hands full trying to contain six-foot-five force Mark Matthews.

''Stay in front of his stick and hope he doesn't do something crazy to get around you,'' Vancouver D-man Tyler Garrison responded when asked how to limit Matthews' effectiveness.

Edmonton has won seven consecutive road games.

The Rush have the No. 1 offense and the No. 2 defense, while the Roughnecks are No. 4 on offense and No. 8 on defense, so the Rush have to be favored in this one.

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