TORONTO — Mark Steenhuis of the Buffalo Bandits isn’t having any sweet dreams these days.
“Just before you go to bed, you go over the things that you do and what you did wrong,” the veteran transition player said. “It makes for a real crappy week, let me tell you.”
Steenhuis shouldn’t count on any deep slumber this week either. His Bandits turned in yet another poor performance, an 18-11 loss to the Toronto Rock before 11,556 in the Air Canada Centre on Friday night.
That dropped Buffalo’s record to 5-8 on the season, and the news doesn’t get any better from there. The Bandits have lost five games in a row, one away from last season’s team record of six straight losses. At least that edition of the team had time to salvage something of the rest of the season and did so. This one’s drop into the ranks of being almost uncompetitive over stretches of time has been as sudden as it is unexpected.
“I’ve never been on a downward slide like this one before,” Steenhuis said.
Turning points usually aren’t as well defined as the one in this game was. Buffalo was down by only a goal at the half at 7-6. Then Toronto started scoring. And scoring. In less than six minutes, a 7-6 game had turned into a 12-6 rout.
“We laid down,” Buffalo coach Darris Kilgour said. “Here you go. Kick us.”
Toronto added two more unanswered goals late in the quarter to complete a 7-0 burst in the third period. The Bandits haven’t been outscored by more than seven goals in a quarter since at least 2006.
The Rock made it nine straight goals by getting two more early in the fourth quarter. It was garbage time from there, as the Bandits ended up allowing a season-high goal total.
“We were 5-3, and now we’ve lost our last five,” Buffalo transition player Jay Thorimbert said. “We had won a lot of one-goal games. It’s all hard to put into words.”
This game was almost representative of how the entire season has gone for Buffalo. The Bandits and Rock weren’t in a particularly good mood after both suffered one-sided losses to Edmonton last weekend. The mood was set when Glen Bryan scored the game’s first goal in the early going – and then was part of a scrum that sent six people to the penalty box.
But penalties started to cause problems for portions of the first half. Luke Wiles, just up from the practice squad, had a particularly frustrating night in that area in his first game in three weeks. He picked up four minors in the first half alone.
“We had a lot of penalty trouble. I guess we weren’t staying focused,” Thorimburt said. “We were not very smart.”
Despite giving up three power-play goals in the first 30 minutes, the Bandits figured out a way to stay within range. Shawn Williams swept in a long-range shot from right along the carpet with one second left to give the Bandits a boost heading into the locker room.
But when they emerged, the burst was gone.
“You keep trying to change the message, try to say the same things in different ways so guys will understand it,” Kilgour said. “You start questioning yourself. I’m questioning myself.
“What am I going to do? Ask for advice from the guys. It’s very frustrating.
“I thought we battled for 60 minutes early in the season. We might not have gotten the results we wanted, but we battled. At some point, we say we’re not going to win, and that’s unacceptable.”
The Bandits at least have their fate in their hands. There were four teams entering Friday’s games with losing records, and one of them will be out of the playoffs when this equivalent to playoff musical chairs comes to an end. Buffalo still plays two of those teams in its three remaining games; the first comes a week from tonight in Minnesota.
Still, the skid means the cushion is gone.
“We can’t wait to muster anything. We’ve got to put together some wins now,” Thorimburt said. “Rochester and Minnesota are in the exact same position. ... We’ve got to get going or we’ll be in trouble.”
Chad Culp was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury; Wiles took his place on the roster. A decision has not been made yet as to whether Culp needs surgery.