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Half a season in, Beauts still trying to find their legs — will they succeed?

With a new roster, old issues are arising in the Beauts’ third season — and this time, they have a title to defend.

Taylor Accursi, playing here against the Metropolitan Riveters on Nov. 18, currently leads the Beauts with five goals on the season.
Pat McCarthy

When it comes to the Buffalo Beauts, the only things consistent about them are their inconsistencies. In their inaugural year, it was the well-documented visa issues that kept a good chunk of their roster from joining the rest of the team for two months. Last season bore witness to an enigmatic Kelley Steadman and multiple other players not making practices. This year, it’s a lot of the same, with players commuting across state and international borders to make the trek to HarborCenter for games.

The result over half a season played is a talented group of players that has yet to fully realize its potential as a cohesive unit. Some players, like Jess Jones, are starting to define their individual game after adjusting to a new team and league. Others, like Amanda Leveille, have matured into their roles and provided a foundation for the rest of the team to build upon. Overall, however, it’s become time for the Beauts to really figure out just who they are as a squad.

At a glance:

2nd place, 4-4-0 overall (1 OTW)

Offense:

2.88 goals per game, 23 G total so far this season

Leader: Taylor Accursi, 5 goals

Points leader: Kourtney Kunichika, 7 pts

Defense:

3.38 GA per game

Sarah Edney: 4 pts (1 G, 3 A)

Sarah Casorso: 3 pts (3 A)

Goaltending:

Amanda Leveille: 8 GP, .898 sv %

Special teams:

PP — 15.8%, 38 attempts (2nd in league)

PK — 82.4%, 34 kill attempts (3rd in league)

Scoring issues

As it stands right now, it looks as though the Beauts have to get their offense producing on a regular basis. They’re spreading the wealth pretty easily, with a handful of players putting up a handful of points — a welcome change from just relying on one scorer as in seasons past. Still, lines switch and players pop in and out of the lineup with such frequency that there isn’t a whole lot of time to develop on-ice chemistry.

As a result, they’re scoring barely three goals a game, while allowing their opponents almost four a night. Even their points leader, Kourtney Kunichika, is mostly playmaking, with six of her seven points being assists. Goals leader Taylor Accursi was out of the lineup for a bit to allow other players to get ice time (according to co-head coach Ric Seiling), but aside from Jones, the scoring from any one person hasn’t really improved.

In addition, the players we’ve been used to hearing from by this point — Corinne Buie and Hayley Scamurra, among others — are a little quieter than usual overall. Buie in particular had a very strong showing on the top line in Jan. 6’s game against Boston on a line with Jones and Accursi, so hopefully that line will stick around a little more.

Still, although Buie has been contributing in more games than she hasn’t, her shooting percentage is way down (just 7.7 percent currently) with slightly more shots than she had eight games into last season (26 this season compared to 23 last season). As for Scamurra, she’s picked her offense up a lot in the past couple of games, scoring two in that span. Before that, she’d had just one goal in five games (three assists as well). Secondary scoring has come in the form of players like Kristin Lewicki (two goals, four points) and Kaylyn Schroka (two goals, six points), both of whom have been growing steadily over the course of the season.

CWHL connection finding its niche?

The two CWHL forward transplants on the team, Jones and Rebecca Vint, are beginning to find their way as well. Jones has seemed to hit her stride in recent weeks, with a goal in each of the last three games, and she was a standout on the top line last weekend. But Vint is still struggling, putting up just two points in seven games played. Their teammate from Brampton, defender Sarah Edney, is known for her prowess on both sides of the puck, and has done a good job so far defensively, but has scored just one goal thus far. While each has a key role on the team right now, only Jones has really begun to settle in.

Blueline support and third period woes

Speaking of the defense, they’ve been fairly quiet overall when it comes to jumping into the play and creating chances. One of the things Buffalo has tended to have is a blueliner who can really drive the play forward and create chances, and while the two Sarahs — Casorso and Edney — have done okay with that, they haven’t had quite the impact that we’ve seen in the past from players like Megan Bozek. Of course, Bozek’s a (former) Olympian currently in her prime, so perhaps the comparison isn’t fair, but it’s just my observation.

On the other side of the puck, they’re doing good but not spectacular work, especially in the third period — which is a whole ‘nother thing to talk about. In third periods, opponents have outscored the Beauts 15-4, which is already much worse than last season (when they only allowed 20 goals, scoring 15).

Coaches Seiling and Craig Muni, as well as multiple players, don’t have a lot to say for this trend, but I think it just comes down to conditioning. If you’re not getting the ice time you need — and it seems as though that might be the case for more players than the coaching staff would like to admit — your play suffers for it in the long run. The Beauts have had too many games this season where two periods of solid play are undone by a sloppy third period, and at this point it’s a chronic problem that points to something deeper than just players having momentary breakdowns. While their last two third periods have shown improvement, that’s going to need to get even better heading into crunch time.

Leveille coming into her own

The goaltending has been the most stable part of the Beauts’ roster heading into this season. Kelsey Neumann and Leveille have returned to the stable and welcomed rookie Julia DiTondo, but in reality we know who’s running the show. Leveille has played all eight games so far in 2017-18, and despite a .898 save percentage, she’s definitely held down her end of things. Puck handling isn’t her strong suit, and rebounds need work, but the cool, collected demeanor that served her well during her Minnesota days is doing the same for her here in the NWHL. Her play is enough to secure her an All-Star captaincy for next month’s festivities in the Twin Cities.

Leveille is coming into her own since taking over for the retired Brianne McLaughlin, and if she can muster up some of that on-ice magic her former teammate had in last year’s Isobel Cup playoffs, she might be able to steal a crucial game in the postseason for the Beauts. That said, I’d love to see one of her teammates get in some ice time before the playoffs, especially DiTondo who had a good showing in her one preseason appearance.

One Buffalo = one more Isobel Cup?

Of course, we can’t neglect some of the intangibles that affect the Beauts this season, most notably their acquisition by Kim and Terry Pegula. Edney and Jones both alluded to wanting to “perform” for their new owners in last week’s game, to prove to them that their investment will pay for itself in the long run in the form of wins and championships, and perform is exactly what they ended up doing against the Pride.

This could be the spark the Beauts need to get them a couple more wins and some space between themselves, Boston, and Connecticut. I don’t think it’s enough to get them all the way through the postseason, but this team has shown it can get it together at the right time and really shock opponents and fans alike. Can they do it a third time, especially in defense of the Isobel Cup? I’m inclined to say no, just because of all the factors involved, but I also didn’t think the Riveters would be on top of the league and undefeated thus far. So I guess anything is possible.