The January 21st match up between the Boston Pride and the New York Riveters was much anticipated. The last time the two teams met, Boston won 3-2 in a shootout. Adding to the excitement was the return of Amanda Kessel. The league teased that Kessel would be in uniform, and by warm-ups her return to the Riveters’ lineup was confirmed.
Saturday’s game looked to be a repeat of the overtime thriller. It was Janine Weber who scored a #TIGTop4-worthy, bottle popping, power play drought-breaking wrister to tie the game in the second period. And, for good measure, Kessel picked up the primary assist, snapping an 0-20 power play record for the Riveters.
With the game tied 1-1, with less than twenty seconds on the clock, overtime looked inevitable. That is, until Alex Carpenter fed Meghan Duggan a pass from behind the net. Duggan put the puck home with 13 seconds left, denying the Riveters the opportunity to gain any points in the standings.
While disappointed in the result, the Riveters are focused on their long term goals, “I think we’re on the right path,” Kessel said after the game.
For Kessel enjoyed finally getting back on the ice with her teammates, but it was not easy to come back against a team like Boston. “It’s been only a couple of practices under my belt... so I think I’ll continue to improve as well,” the star winger added.
With only one win (two points) separating second and fourth place, earning points is even more important in the second half of the season. Aside from the now 10-0 Boston pride, every other NWHL team has just four wins. It is also worth noting that the Riveters have played the most games (12) of any team heading into the weekend.
Keys to maintaining second place
The Riveters have the opportunity to take fate into their own hands with two games this weekend. New York will face the Beauts on tonight, and then take on the Whale in Connecticut on Sunday night.
The Riveters shutout both teams the last time their paths crossed. Look for defense and goaltending to once again be a deciding factor for the Riveters while they’re on the road.
With the only three shutouts in franchise history coming this season, Katie Fitzgerald (2 shutouts) and Sojung Shin (1 shutout) have been standouts for the Riveters. The two rookie netminders have already tied the total wins collected by Nana Fujimoto last season. The expectation is that there are more wins to come.
It will be interesting to see if Shin gets the start today in Buffalo. The Korean goalie returned to the team last week after some time away competing with her national team. Shin and the Riveters ended 2016 with a shutout win against Connecticut. Buffalo is the only team that has not seen Shin between the pipes this season.
Either way it is likely we will see both goaltenders play this weekend, considering the Riveters play two games in a span of three days.
Overall the defense, as anticipated, has improved for the Riveters.
All six rostered defenders have tallied goals for New York this season. In 12 games, ten goals - over one-third of the team’s total - and 13 assists have come from the Riveters blueliners. Last season, defensemen tallied three goals and 19 assist over 18 games. The size and speed of additions like Courtney Burke and Kaleigh Fratkin have paid off.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the power play is the biggest area for improvement for the Riveters.
New York has a 13 percent success rate on the man advantage. Only their opponents on Sunday, the Connecticut Whale, have a less effective power play. However, with 83 percent success, only Boston has a better penalty kill than the Riveters. For a team that is regularly outscored by opponents, getting stronger on the advantage should be a focus.
With the Riveters drawing more penalties than their opponents, turning the power play around is an opportunity to get on the board more frequently and maintain command of second place.
The road through Buffalo and Connecticut will not be easy.
The Riveters will look to take the lead in the New York State series in their final visit to Buffalo for the regular season. Buffalo will be fired up after a disappointing shutout loss to New York two weeks ago. If the Riveters can capitalize while the Beauts are in the box, I expect a win for the visitors. However, Buffalo has the best power play (25.6%) in the league, so keeping out of the box will be important for the visiting team.
Connecticut is a team still looking to click. With two defenders leaving at the end of the year, the Whale must work even harder to establish a rhythm. Neither team will be fresh going into the Sunday NWHL matinee. The Riveters must keep shots on goal low and control rebounds, especially with players like Kelly Babstock and Nicole Kosta lurking around the net.
If the team’s puck movement and discipline continue to improve, the Riveters should be in good position to collect four points this weekend. The addition of a healthy, and game fit Amanda Kessel doesn’t hurt either.