Connecticut Whale’s Primary Objective: Capitalize in the ‘O’ Zone

Six games into the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League season and still without a win, the Connecticut Whale are no longer satisfied with rationales like not getting favorable breaks in games or good efforts that come up short.

Battling hard, which was again the case in a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Beauts last Sunday afternoon at the Danbury Ice Arena, doesn’t cut it anymore. The Whales want that ‘W’ and moral victories aren’t acceptable.

Related: NWHL October Recap

Three weeks removed from their heartbreaking 3-2 setback to the Isobel Cup champion Minnesota Whitecaps, the Whale didn’t exhibit any rust as they resumed play with a fast pace that included crisp passing and solid cycling in all zones.

However, that execution didn’t reach its intended fruition and that’s the main focus going forward. Connecticut has lost all four of its games against the Beauts by two goals or less, and the one overtime encounter ended with a 5-4 score for the Whale’s only point (0-5-1).

“We need to finish our plays,” said Whale forward Kaycie Anderson, who noted during a Twitch TV interview between periods that the Whale was unable to convert breakaways and turn odd-man rushes into goals. “We have to put the puck in the net.”

Connecticut Whale forward Kayla Meneghin moves through traffic near the crease during a scoring opportunity against Minnesota. (Photo Credit: Bryan Johnson Photography)

Whale Player of Saturday’s Game

Kayla Meneghin’s tally during a scrum of sorts in front of Buffalo goalie Kelsey Neumann with about five minutes left in the third period was the only time the Whale were able to light the lamp during an otherwise frustrating outcome. The Danbury Warriors outshot the visitors, 42-26.

While Meneghin was in the right place at the right time as the puck found her stick before slowly sliding across the goal line, her ability to be a pest near the Beauts’ crease and in the low slot made her a scoring threat throughout the contest.

The three-time All-American at SUNY (State University of New York) Plattsburg and second-year member of the Whale was a pesky presence at the other end as she created disruptions on Beauts’ rushes.

Strike Force Limited by Top Star

The outcome might have been much different had Neumann not been sensational between the pipes. Many of the NWHL’s Player of the Week’s 41 saves came with Connecticut getting good looks and high-percentage chances. The inability to capitalize on a rebound, or get a body in front with Neumann out of position after making a save, continually hurt the Whale.

“We need to communicate out there, get the puck deep and establish our play when we have the advantage,” continued Anderson as the Whale went 0 for 6 on the power play (nine percent this season) to continue a less-than-positive trend in that regard.

One bright spot for the Whale came on the penalty kill as the squad was successful on all three occasions when the Beauts were a man up. Connecticut now has a 52 percent success rate this season on the PK.

In the faceoff circle, Emma Vlasic won 10 draws while Schwenzfeier contributed seven.

The Pod on Course at the Outset

At no time were the Whale’s blitzes into the offensive zone more evident than in the first period when the hosts peppered Neumann with 13 shots while allowing only four to be handled by Whale netminder Sonjia Shelly (24 saves in all).

The air came out of the momentum balloon just 31 seconds into the second period as Buffalo struck first on a goal by Taylor Accursi. That score held until the 13:48 mark of the third period when Erin Gehen made it 2-0 to put further pressure on the Whale.

After Meneghin came through with her third goal of the season on assists from Sarah Schwenzfeier and Jordan Brickner just over a minute later, the Beauts added an empty netter to seal the deal.

Connecticut Whale Jordan Brickner
Connecticut Whale’s Jordan Brickner breaks free through the neutral zone and creates a rush the other way. (Photo Credit: Bryan Johnson Photography)

More frustration on the Whale’s part came after they produced but could not benefit from balanced ‘O’ zone firepower as 15 players had shots on goal. Schwenzfeier and Grace Kleinbach led the charge with six apiece, while Brickner unleashed four.

Captain Shannon Doyle, Elena Orlando, Kendra Broad, Erin Hall and Meneghin all challenged Neumann with three apiece.

The road to that first win certainly doesn’t get any easier as this Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. showdown in Boston against the undefeated Pride (8-0) will be a tough test to say the least. Boston has allowed only 14 goals thus far this season and has twice as many points (16) as second-place Buffalo.