The saying goes, "Blink and you'll miss it." If you blinked four times during the first period of Sunday's game between the Beauts and the Whale, you likely missed a lot of action.
Connecticut took advantage of a rough start by the Buffalo defense and goaltender Amanda Leveille, scoring four goals in 2:08 to pull out what would become a 7-5 win at Harborcenter.
The first period was by all accounts a disaster on the Beauts' end. Although they began the frame with some good pressure and a couple of chances on Shenae Lundberg, that quickly fell apart once the Whale took over puck possession. Three of the Whale's four goals came from the seemingly unstoppable line of Kelli Stack alongside Haley Skarupa and Nicole Connery. Emily Janiga broke open the Beauts' scoring with a breakaway goal, but it would be 5-1 by period's end thanks to Stack.
"I really don't know," head coach Ric Seiling said with a chuckle post-game when asked what went wrong. "I just told the girls it's a good example of, if you're not prepared, you're not ready to start the game, then that's what happens."
Buffalo was clearly unprepared, often looking unorganized in their own end and leaving Leveille alone to deal with multiple Whale players on top of her net. For Leveille's part, she was shaken early and gave up a few rebounds that turned into chances. With five goals allowed on nine shots, she was pulled for the second and third periods in favor of Brianne McLaughlin, and things began to change.
The second period, cumulatively the Beauts' worst period so far this season, was actually the best played this time around. Buffalo outshot Connecticut 9-4 and outscored them 2-0 during the middle 20, getting goals from Devon Skeats and Kelley Steadman. They rose to the occasion physically, and the defense finally began to support their goaltender with sticks and bodies in the lanes, as well as cutting off rushes up-ice. McLaughlin was perfect, making key saves and challenging the offense when necessary. The penalty kill for the game didn't see a ton of work (4 PIM) but was perfect. However, the power play left a lot to be desired, whiffing on all four of its chances throughout the game.
The third period was scoreless until 7:27, when Steadman broke free again to pull Buffalo to within one. The Beauts and Whale then traded goals throughout the period, with Jordan Brickner re-establishing Connecticut's two-goal lead and Corinne Buie once again cutting it down to one on her first goal as a Beaut. It became a fight down to the last ten seconds, when finally, Kelly Babstock's empty-net goal at 19:51 sealed it for the Whale.
Seiling credited his team with having the determination and self-awareness to readjust and get back into the game after the meltdown.
"These ladies are professionals," he said. "What I find is there's not a lot needed to be said [between periods]. They're self-motivating, they motivate amongst each other, they feed off of each other and I'm really happy with the job our captains do with the room and how everyone responds to it.
"All I had to do was point out a few areas that I thought [needed fixing] and let them take it from there."
Janiga, who opened the scoring and continues her solid play for Buffalo (three points in four games), called the game "a learning experience."
"We weren't moving our feet, we weren't connecting on our passes," she said. "Whatever it is, we've got to figure it out and change it quickly."
The Beauts will have two weeks off of competitive play to work on changing it, minus a few players who will be heading to Vierumaki, Finland for the 2016 Four Nations Cup. Megan Bozek, Anne Schleper and Emily Pfalzer will join the U.S. National Team for on-ice training throughout the coming week, with the tournament taking place Nov. 1-5. Live streaming will be available as per USA Hockey's website, though details are not known at this time.
Once the Four Nations Cup is over, it's back to business for Buffalo, with a back-to-back weekend against the Riveters at Harborcenter Nov. 12 and 13. With just one more game in the month of November after that (against the Pride), the Beauts know they have to buckle down.
"As a team, I think we have to keep our mindset on the games in two weeks and take advantage of the time we do have off," Janiga said. "We have to stay healthy, stay positive and just stay with it."