The Brampton Thunder have had a less-than-ideal start to their 2016-17 season.
Four losses in a row against Montreal and Calgary - three in regulation and one in the shootout - leave the Thunder sitting at one point across their first four games of the season. Though three of these losses have been by a slim, one-goal margin, the beginning of the CWHL’s 10th season has been painful for a team who is looking to build upon a successful year in 2015-16.
The Thunder have been outshot by a total of 130-108 across four games, with a goal differential of -6 and a penalty kill success rate of 80 percent. They have consistently scored two goals in each of their games so far, but this has not been enough to pull out a win or two.
Goalie Erica Howe, Brampton's starter in three games so far, sits at a 0.906 save percentage. This number certainly is not fantastic, but is not too far off from her save percentage last season (0.915 percent). Howe has also faced the most shots in the league heading into this weekend (87).
The statistics are not all bad, though. The Thunder’s power play percentage sits at 15.80 - good enough for second in the league. Both Laura Stacey and Jess Jones have four points through four games, and Laura Fortino and Shannon MacAulay are not too far behind with three points in four games. The core has looked strong so far, but the problem seemingly lies in the defense.
This weekend, in an upcoming series against the Toronto Furies, there is an opportunity for Brampton to pull out a win and kick-start a turnaround. Through four games, the Furies are 2-2 with a +2 goal differential and sit at third in the standings. The Thunder dominated against the Furies last season, pulling out six victories across six games.
Let’s not forget that the Thunder have only faced the CWHL’s most dominant teams so far this season. Many of their points last year came from victories against Toronto and Boston, with a few coming from exciting wins against Calgary or Montreal.
The reason I continue to compare this year's team to last year’s is because the Thunder need to return to the type of energy they had in 2015-16. Brampton played in many exciting games last season, pulling out some very close victories and winning by slim margins. The Thunder were very fun to watch, and I would love to see them return to a similar style of play this year. The losses have certainly not been monumental, but things just don’t seem to be falling into place for Brampton quite yet.
How can they improve?
A few areas will need slight improvement in order for Brampton to quickly turn around their season. First and foremost, they will need to play better defense. This is easier said than done, but it is hard to win games when a team is outshot every night. If the Thunder continue to consistently score two to three goals per game, their defense will need to see immediate improvement.
Their special teams will need to improve as well. An 80 percent PK is not terrible, but it most definitely could be better. The Thunder’s power play is lower than that of last seasons (19.78 in 2015-16), and the PP/PK was one of Brampton’s most significant strong suits last year.
The Thunder have the skill and tenacity to be a force to reckon with in the CWHL. Though their 0-4 record may not prove this, anyone who has watched a Thunder game over the past two years can recognize the strong points of this team. The key to success for Brampton this season will be to return to what they did well last year: stellar special teams, high-scoring forwards and durable goaltending. Though their weaknesses may have been exposed early on this season, there is still more than enough time for a turnaround.