It’s an exciting weekend for the NWHL, as teams enter into their fifth games. The Connecticut Whale sit atop the league with a 4-0 record, while the Buffalo Beauts are working diligently come together as a team and pull out their first win. The Boston Pride and the New York Riveters are embroiled in a heated, occasionally violent rivalry, and will face each other for the second consecutive week. Here are some things to watch for in this week’s action.
Nana Fujimoto: How can you not love the diminutive NY Riveters goaltender? She’s certainly stolen the hearts of fans in the Big Apple, and beyond, as her jersey was the highest selling sweater in the NWHL at last report. Fujimoto had a slow start – perhaps it was just getting adjusted to life in America, or they system that the Riveters played. NY was also shy an important defenseman until last week, which may have contributed to Nana’s high GAA, but in the last two games, she’s been on fire, and last week, she shut down a Boston Pride team that had hung seven goals on the Rivs in their last match-up, and doing so, secured NY’s first NWHL victory. Can Fujimoto double up her luck and get the Riveters’ first road win?
Buffalo Beauts Power Play: No team in the NWHL has more power play opportunities than Buffalo, who has had 24. No team in the NWHL has fewer power play goals than the Buffalo Beauts, who have 1. The paltry .042% power play conversion is a big reason that Buffalo is 0-4. They came closer in last week’s matchup against the Whale, finally moving their high umbrella down low and getting some shots, but CT netminder Jaimie Leonoff was up to the task. If Buffalo can finally get a solid power play together, their fate may change drastically, which brings us to…
The Connecticut Whale’s Penalty…Woes?: The league’s most penalized team should be suffering somehow, but they seem to brush it off as though it were nothing. Allowing only one goal in the 23 times they’ve been shorthanded, they lead the league with a .957 kill percentage. If Buffalo’s weak power play is a reason for their record, surely the Whale’s amazing penalty kill is a HUGE reason they’re undefeated. As if their one goal against on the kill weren’t amazing enough, the Whale is actually EVEN on the penalty kill this season, having scored a shortie in Buffalo last week.
Hilary Knight: Knight is perhaps the most prolific scorer in women’s hockey. She scored the winning OT goal at the Four Nations Cup – her second of two game winners. The NWHL is certainly aware of Knight and her legacy, and while she leads the league in scoring, she is only third in the league in goals. In second is Beauts’ practice squad phenom Kelley Steadman, who has played in fewer games than Knight. She’s due for a goal-scoring explosion, and the Pride will be looking for revenge. Sunday could be Knight’s night.
Buffalo’s Goaltending ‘Controversy’: Buffalo’s feature goalie is Team USA’s very own Brianne McLaughlin, and though she has a high GAA, she’s been shelled game after game, leading the league with 121 saves – just under 40 saves a game. Brianne sat last week and Buffalo native Kimberly Sass got the nod. When asked about the decision to start Sass, co-coach Ric Seiling responded, “Brianne just got back from Sweden, so, y’know, jet lag and all of that. Kimberly has been here for every practice and every game. She hasn’t shown us a reason not to have her play. She looks great in practice, and I don’t think anyone on our team has faced more rubber this year than her.” And that’s saying something. Sass had a strong outing against the high-powered Whale offense and may have earned herself her second straight start. On the same token, the Beauts have just gotten their whole team together, and may want to see how they play in front of McLaughlin. The goalie that starts could be the goalie that gets the Beauts’ first win, and if that happens, don’t they have to stick with her?
As you tune in to stream the game in Buffalo, or flip on the TV to watch the Rivs vs Pride matchup on NESN (whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!) be sure to keep an eye out for these points of interest. Familiarity breeds contempt, and it seems that these four teams are beginning to allow a solid respect melt into a magma of loathing.
The Buffalo Beauts will host Military Appreciation Day. All members of the military will be given a 50% discount with valid ID. Show your Purple Heart, and you’ll be admitted for free.
Our next game on Sunday, 11/22 will be Military Appreciation Day! We are proud to partner with @DefTheBlueLine pic.twitter.com/xGK8RikXMc
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) November 17, 2015
I am a proud lifelong Buffalo fan and an avid Jack Eichel defender. I have had a lot of fun covering the NWHL – it has been an exciting inaugural season and I look forward to sharing that excitement. For more of this season’s NWHL and Sabres coverage, check out http://www.bonushockey.com and http://www.716sportspodcast.com.