As the Rochester Knighthawks have tackled three games over the last two weeks, they’re still looking for their first win since returning from their five-week hiatus. Last weekend, the Knighthawks took on the Toronto Rock in their first visit north of the border, where the six-time NLL champions held Rochester to just four goals over the last 30 minutes of play, resulting in a 12-8 loss for the club.
Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey felt his team had a slow start to the contest and they just couldn’t find a flow from the beginning.
“We had a few penalties, we lost a few possessions, maybe turned the ball over a few times and didn’t come up with some ground balls. We just didn’t seem like we had much flow, but then we started to inch our way back and played some good lacrosse.”
Knighthawks forwards Ryan Smith, Curtis Knight and Turner Evans all logged five points apiece on two goals and three assists to lead the offense while two-time NLL MVP Shawn Evans notched two power-play markers to complete the scoring for Rochester against Toronto.
While we saw four goal-scorers contribute to the 12-8 score line, Carey felt his team didn’t capitalize enough offensively like they have in the past.
“It’s just one of those games where I felt like our goaltending was good, our defense played good enough and our offense didn’t capitalize on any opportunities and create as much as we have in other games this year.”
Goaltender Rylan Hartley made his fourth straight start in the crease for the Knighthawks and unfortunately suffered the loss despite making 42 saves on the 53 shots he faced. Carey felt that Hartley’s efforts were a large part as to why the Knighthawks stayed in the contest as long as they did.
“I thought Rylan Hartley was spectacular early on. He had a lot of great saves. They had a lot of good scoring opportunities and chances that he stood tall on and came up with some really big saves early on.”
Looking ahead, things don’t get much easier this week for the Knighthawks, who go up against arguably the best team in the league in the 5-0 Buffalo Bandits for the second of three meetings this season. Last time these two teams met was during the Knighthawks Home Opener back on Dec. 11, when the Knighthawks held their ground until about five minutes into the fourth quarter, even keeping the NLL’s top offense scoreless during the second quarter.
After a back-and-forth battle for most of the game, Buffalo would find momentum in the fourth with three goals over a minute-and-a-half span, escaping with a 12-8 win over Rochester. Although the Knighthawks came away with the loss during the team’s first meeting with Buffalo, Carey still felt that if it weren’t for a couple of mental errors in the final quarter then there was high potential for a different outcome on the night.
“There were times where we were up a couple of goals and then we made some mental errors and mistakes that they capitalized on that either got them ahead or tied it up. I think without those, it might’ve been a different outcome and I just felt we played a good game overall.”
Looking at Buffalo’s roster, they’re still one of the most complete teams in the league. Buffalo netminder Matt Vinc leads the National Lacrosse League with his five wins, while sitting at third in the league with his 211 saves. Bandits forward Dhane Smith paces his team with his 35 points, which is tied for third in the league, as well as 26 assists. Veteran defenseman Steve Priolo leads his team with 45 loose ball recoveries, while six players on the Buffalo roster have 15 or more points already on the 2021-22 campaign.
Going into the previous get-together in Rochester, Carey admitted Buffalo was arguably the toughest competition in the league, however, after losing the last three games, he feels this is what his team needs to get back on track.
“I think I said this before the last time that we played them, they’re one of the most complete teams in the league. It’s a good test for us. We’re struggling right now, and we’ve had three games in a row where we haven’t played really well and we’ve lost. If we’re playing to the best of our ability and we’re losing, then that’s tough, but if we’re playing really well and it’s close and you know you have a chance to win, then that’s something you can take pride in.”
A key factor in this weekend’s matchup against the Bandits for Rochester is going to be having a strong start to the game. Carey feels his team knows how important a good start is, however, they just need to get a consistent flow with one another and capitalize on their offensive opportunities in a more consistent manner if they want to hand Buffalo its first loss of the season.
“We know that we can’t have those slow starts and part of that is possession and gaining some flow offensively and defensively. There’s times where we’re not getting possessions that we want.”
Carey then went on to finish by saying, “I think it’s just a matter of capitalizing on our opportunities offensively and creating that flow. We have glimpses of it over periods of time over the last couples of games, but it’s just not consistent. I think the guys have trust in one another and it’s just a matter of coming together and going out and executing.”
Rochester concludes its three-game road swing this Saturday, Feb. 5 when the Knighthawks look to take down the unbeaten Bandits at KeyBank Center. The 7:30 p.m. matchup will be the second of three scheduled meetings between the two teams this season and will be carried live on 107.3 FM The Bull and ESPN+.