After closing the door on defense last weekend, the Buffalo Bandits have an opportunity to keep that defensive momentum going against another visiting West opponent struggling to score.
Back in the saddle after a 13-8 win over the Calgary Roughnecks, the Bandits (2-2) set their sights on the Vancouver Stealth (0-4) as the teams face off on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at KeyBank Center.
To stay unbeaten at home, Buffalo will look to keep starting goaltender Alex Buque in rhythm after his strong 44-save showing against Calgary while continuing their offensive consistency.
Hitting the road could help the Stealth move on from last week’s historic defeat in their own building. Vancouver allowed an NLL-record 17 first-half goals, trailing 20-1 at one point, in their 24-7 loss to the Toronto Rock.
History won’t be on their side heading into this weekend’s game. The Bandits have won six-straight games against the Stealth, who haven’t left Buffalo with a win since 2012.
Without a win this season, Vancouver joins Calgary (2015) and Toronto (2016) as the three teams in the last six years to open with four consecutive losses.
Despite the advantage on paper, taking on a team hungry for its first win could again prove to be a challenge for the Bandits.
Buffalo was 4-2 in 2016 when the 0-6 Rock upset them while the New England Black Wolves were 0-3 when they beat the Bandits last season.
Even with added motivation and desperation, the Stealth will have their work cut out for them as they enter the game ranked last in the league in both team offense and defense.
Tye Belanger and Brodie MacDonald have split duties in net, combining to allow a league-high average of 16.75 goals per game, as Vancouver searches for answers defensively.
Tied with Calgary in averaging a league-low nine goals per game, the Stealth also needs more out of their attack, which includes forward Rhys Duch.
Duch, who has scored 33 or more goals in each of his first nine pro seasons, has scored just once on 54 shots, the lowest shooting percentage (.019) of any goal scorer this year.
The two-time All-Pro will be working alongside Stealth scoring leaders Logan Schuss and Corey Small. Schuss, tied for fifth among all players with nine goals, has 15 points to match Small, tied for sixth in the league with 13 assists.
Two former Bandits, Brandon Goodwin and Anthony Malcom, are also among the Stealth’s top early contributors.
Goodwin, traded from Buffalo to Calgary for Mitch DeSnoo in 2015, signed with Vancouver this preseason and is off to a fast start with eight points (3+5) after sitting out last year.
Malcom and Buffalo’s 12th overall pick were shipped to the Stealth in exchange for Jordan Durston via a draft-day trade in September. Vancouver used that selection on rookie Ryan Fournier, currently on a three-game goal streak.
The Bandits were able to make the trade partly because they also owned the 13th pick, which they used to draft Chase Fraser. The rookie has impressed with six points (4+2) but his status is questionable after he left last game with an injury.
Acquiring a young goal scorer in Durston has paid early dividends for Buffalo as he now prepares to face his former team. The 23-year-old, already in his third pro season, broke out with a hat trick against Calgary and ranks fourth on the Bandits with 13 points (5+8).
Buffalo’s leading scorer Dhane Smith ranks fourth in NLL scoring with 23 points including 17 assists, tied for the league-lead. Mitch Jones is tied for 12th among all scorers with 17 points (8+9) and Callum Crawford has 16 points with nine goals, tied for the fifth-most in the league. Rookie Josh Byrne is fifth on the team with 11 points (4+7).
Defense and transition has been able to supplement the offense with some scoring as well. Steve Priolo (1+7) and Nick Weiss (4+3) both rank in the top five of all defenders in points. Kevin Brownell emerged with two goals last week and fellow transition player Mark Steenhuis remains as a two-way threat.
Capitalizing on power plays and limiting chances on the penalty kill should be a point of emphasis for both teams.
The Stealth will aim to improve its league-worst power play (20 percent), converting just 11% of chances on the road, while the Bandits are fourth in the NLL at 50 percent. Buffalo is second-last with a 41 percent penalty-kill rate, one spot behind seventh-ranked Vancouver (50 percent).
Watch Saturday’s game live on NLLTV.com or tune in on the radio on ESPN 1520 AM in Buffalo.