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Hive Five: Swarm at Bandits

#83 Randy Staats. Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

Buffalo fought Georgia intensely on Saturday, April 15, but Georgia was ultimately able to come back and seal the deal against the East Division rival with a 17-16 victory. Instead of enjoying two and a half more months away from each other, both Georgia and Buffalo travel back to the Bandits’ home at KeyBank Center for their final contest of the 2017 regular season on Saturday, April 22.

The last time these two teams played in KeyBank Center, the Swarm knocked off the Bandits 18-14 on Jan. 20. Every game is important in an 18-game season, but Saturday’s game arguably carries much more significance than the contest on Jan. 20 as Buffalo desperately needs a win to have a chance at the playoffs.

The NLL’s Game of the Week will be broadcasted LIVE on Twitter at NLL.Twitter.com. This historic live stream is just one of the many things you Swarm fans should look out for in addition to these 5 Quick Stings:

1. The Bandits’ Last Stand

You would think with only two games left to go in its season and a 6-10 record would be the end for Buffalo, but the NLL’s parity rears its beautiful head in the Bandits’ favor this year. Buffalo still has a chance to make the playoffs, but the team needs so much to go right for this to happen. Breaking it all down:

The Toronto Rock (8-8) and New England Black Wolves (8-8) are both vying for the final two playoff spots in the East Division. Buffalo is aiming to tie record-wise with one (or both) of them.

New England plays the Rochester Knighthawks (5-10) this week. The Black Wolves have already knocked off Rochester twice this season, and chances are good it’ll repeat, especially considering the team’s insane victory at Saskatchewan last weekend will have increased its confidence dramatically. It then welcomes the Vancouver Stealth (7-9) who is also playing with a new level of intensity as it tries to reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. My money’s on New England winning at least one of these games if not both.

Toronto takes to the road to face the Saskatchewan Rush (10-5) this weekend. The two met at Air Canada Centre where Toronto won 13-11, but that was also the second game of the season for both teams. Saskatchewan is a much better team now than it was during its slow start and will be looking to erase the bad taste that came from New England’s overtime victory which ruined the Rush’s perfect home record. This will be a clash of two of the top defenses in the sport, but the Rock are currently on a three-game losing streak. Tough to see them coming out on top of this one.

So if Toronto loses, this puts them at 8-9. One more loss will get them to 8-10. And its last opponent of the season? The Buffalo Bandits. A Buffalo win will tie their records.

This is great for Buffalo. The two teams have battled three times already this season, and Buffalo has taken two of the contests. If the two end up tied, then it all comes down to who has the better series record – Buffalo right now – and a Bandits’ victory will solidify that.

To summarize, Buffalo’s only shot at the playoffs involves Toronto losing the last two games of its season, one of which is against a team it has already lost to twice. The only issue is that Buffalo will also have to win its last two games, and your Georgia Swarm could put the kibosh on that dream with a quickness this Saturday.

2. Take a Seat

Georgia is in the bottom three when it comes to penalty minutes registered and infractions, a good place to be. Buffalo is in the top three. So you think Georgia would behave and let Buffalo penalize itself to a loss, but that just has not happened this season.

The first time these two clashed, Buffalo recorded 31 min. in the penalty box, giving Georgia eight power play opportunities. The Swarm responded by earning 17 min. of its own, good for six power play opportunities. 17<31, but those 17 minutes are still pretty high, especially for a team that before last week averaged only 13.14 min. in the penalty box per game.

What can be said other than Buffalo’s a physical team and Georgia responded in kind? Both teams last Saturday accrued 26 min. on 10 infractions, highlighted by a fun brawl between Randy Staats and Matthew Bennett in the fourth quarter. Georgia’s penalty minutes per game average jumped up from 13.14 to an even 14. With so much on the line for Buffalo, expect a cornucopia of penalties this Saturday.

3. Stats on Staats on Stats on Staats

Even with only six assists against Buffalo (and again, that fight was fun), Staats is arguably on a better tear this year than his record-setting ROY season. In 2016, Staats scored 36 goals and recorded 59 assists in 18 games. Averaging that out, it comes to 2 GF/GAME and 3.28 AF/GAME.

He unfortunately missed a month due to a high body injury, so Staats has only played in 11 games this season. He currently has 26 goals and 38 assists. Let’s average that out: 2.36 GF/GAME and 3.45 AF/GAME. That may not seem like much until we do some more math (yay). If you multiply his 2016 averages by 11 (games), Staats would have had only 22 goals and 36 assists, four goals and two assists less than his 2017 totals. If we compare that to his first 11 games in 2016 (which would have ended on March 18), we see that he had 22G, 24A (46 points).

It sucks that he missed time due to injury because Staats is clearly performing much better in his sophomore season. If he had not missed any time and kept his current rate up (and let’s be honest, he’d probably increase it even more), Staats would end with 42G, 62A. That’s 104 points.

That’s insane.  

4. In the Membrane

Like the netting of a goal, membranous. Now my title for this Quick Sting makes sense.

Mike Poulin’s numbers between the pipes against Buffalo haven't been his best this season. In 120 min. of play, he’s allowed 30 goals on 108 shots, a GAA of 15 and a .722 SV%. But when you have the top offense and best penalty killing defense helping you out, then it becomes more about the quality of the saves, a statement Swarm head coach Ed Comeau has said many a time. Proof positive was his phenomenal block at the end of Saturday’s game.

Touching back on Georgia’s unselfish offense, Buffalo’s Davide DiRuscio and Anthony Cosmo have not found a way to stop Georgia’s onslaught. On Jan. 20, Buffalo started Cosmo at goal but switched him within nine minutes as he had allowed four goals on 16 shots. DiRuscio earned the loss with his 12 goals against. Last weekend, DiRuscio stood between the pipes first and lasted nearly 50 minutes before he was switched out for Cosmo. They split 17 goals between them, 15 for DiRuscio and 2 for Cosmo. Over two games, they have combined for a 16.5 GAA and a .716 SV%. Splitting that, DiRuscio has a 16.33 GAA and a .707 SV% and Cosmo a 17.65 GAA and .750 SV%. Buffalo’s goaltending struggles will come to a head this weekend if DiRuscio and Cosmo aren’t able to elevate their game.

5. The Dangerous Former Swarm Player

Credit where credit is due: Buffalo’s Ryan Benesch has been cutting a swath through Georgia on his way to 15 points (9G, 6A) in the two games between these teams. The first game saw him record three goals and four assists, but last week saw him get the socktrick on 10 shots (a .600 shot percentage) in the loss to the Swarm. His eight points that night tied with teammate Smith’s three goals and five assists and Georgia’s Lyle Thompson and Johnny Powless – both had four goals and four assists.

The former Minnesota Swarm player is definitely an excellent player. His three seasons with Buffalo before this one have seen him record 283 points (119G, 164A). The entire team has had a rough season, though, and Benesch’s numbers reflect that – 57 points (27G, 30A) in 12 games played. That being said, he just comes alive against his former team and does some excellent bandito-ing. A third of his goals this season came in the two contests against Georgia. Comeau and Co. know about this thorn in their side and will do what they can to hopefully slow him down if not outright quiet him Saturday.

Georgia Swarm Pro Lacrosse Team