The Connecticut Whale are using a lengthy break in the National Women’s Hockey League schedule to build on the positives while striving to make a U-turn in the standings from a southbound to a northbound direction.
Every Tuesday and Thursday night at the Danbury Ice Arena, the Whale hit the practice rink for nearly an hour and a half of continual shooting and passing drills, working lines, defensive maneuvering and establishing chemistry.
With 19 games in the 2019-20 season still up for grabs, the NWHL’s green machine has no intention of waving the white flag. On the contrary, the squad is more determined than ever to reverse course in terms of their record (0-4-1).
For alternate captain Elena Orlando, that equates to staying strong and overcoming adversity with a good work ethic.
“There’s a lot of grit on this team,” Orlando said during the Whale’s recent series against Minnesota. “(Our players) aren’t afraid to go to the net, get dirty in the corners and win puck battles. Everyone is kind of fearless which is awesome to see.”
More Pressure on Opposing Goalies
That optimism begins in the offensive zone, where the Whale have gone on the attack with 134 shots on goal through their first five games. That’s nearly 35 percent more firepower than last season when they averaged just over 20 shots per contest.
Leading the way in that important category is team captain Shannon Doyle with 19 SOG. She is among seven who have logged double digits in shots, including Grace Kleinbach (15), Emma Vlasic (14), Jordan Brickner, Kaycie Anderson and Sarah Hughson (all with 11), and Jane Morrisette (10).
“We’re creating a lot of opportunities offensively, but defensively we kind of have to buckle down a little bit more,” said Anderson, who not only scored her first goal but also caused disruptions to the Whitecaps’ rush during the recent series. “Not giving (teams) the time and space to operate in our zone is important.”
Goalie Play a Huge Shot in the Arm
That would make life a little easier for starting goaltender Sonjia Shelly, who has faced 154 shots and turned back 137 of them for an .876 save percentage five games into the campaign.
Shelly’s stats, which include a 42-save performance against Minnesota one week ago Sunday, are impressive but there is a feeling on the team that she shouldn’t have to handle more than 30 shots per game on average.
Doyle is spearheading what the Whale believes will be a better ‘D’ once the season gets underway again on Sunday, Nov. 17 against the Buffalo Beauts. Faceoff is at 12:30 P.M. at the Danbury Ice Arena.
Along with her 16 blocked shots, Doyle has a goal and five assists. Those handful of helpers puts her in esteemed company over the five years of this franchise with 25. Brickner and original Whale member Kelli Stack each have 21. (Cetacean Nation, Nov. 5, 2019.)
Balanced point production as a whole is something that also shows promise for the Danbury dynamos. A total of 10 Whale players have at least one goal, and seven have two or more assists.
Along with Kayla Meneghin and Morrisette, former Yale University captain Emma Vlasic has a pair of goals atop the leaderboard.
“We’re getting better every game. We’re really good in spurts; we just have to be more consistent,” said Vlasic, whose goal in the Saturday game against Minnesota is considered the best of the 13 total goals by the Whale thus far this season.
Vlasic’s willpower and drive to score while falling to the ice thrilled the hundreds in attendance and the more than 2,000 watching on Twitch TV. Her shot low and to the blocker side followed a precision pass from Kleinbach.
With the exception of that first Minnesota game, which ended in a 7-2 setback, the Whale games have been marked by plenty of drama and close encounters. The other four contests were decided by two goals or less.
“Our game plan offensively has been to go to the net hard and generate scoring chances,” Anderson said, “There’s a lot of energy out there on the ice.”
Cleanup Needed in PP and PK Aisles
A glance at the Whale’s season statistics also shows some areas of concern involving the percentages of converting power-play opportunities and also killing off penalties.
The Pod has capitalized on an average of only 10 percent of man-advantage situations, and 52 percent of the time they have surrendered a goal when shorthanded.