On Nov. 25, the Metropolitan Riveters’ roster was at full strength for the first time all season. With Courtney Burke, Amanda Kessel, and Miye D’Oench back in the lineup, the Riveters found a way to defeat the Connecticut Whale in the shootout after having a 54.96 percent edge in the shot share at even strength in regulation and overtime.
The key to Sunday’s narrow victory — other than the outstanding play of goaltender Kimberly Sass — was the emergence of the team’s new second line. The trio of Audra Richards, Alexa Gruschow, and Miye D’Oench was, by far, the most impactful line for the Riveters in the offensive zone. With a little more chemistry, that trio could become the engine that gets the Riveters back on track.
Richards on a Roll
Before her hat trick on Sunday there were clear signs that Audra Richards was heating up. After putting up four shots and zero points in her first three NWHL games, the Minnesota native scored three goals in her next four contests. On Sunday, Richards netted her hat trick in eight shots on goal and earned honors as the first star of the game.
Early in the season it appeared that Richards lacked quickness, but most players would after being two years removed from playing hockey and skating against the speedy Minnesota Whitecaps. Now that she has a few games under belt, Richards has found her stride and has been the team’s most impressive rookie.
“Audra plays a really gritty game,” Miye D’Oench told the Ice Garden after Sunday’s shootout victory. “She’s really great at battling in the corners, forechecking, protecting the puck — and I thought the third goal in particular was the type of thing where you earn your luck. She was just working so hard that shift and the whole game. That always pays off. It doesn’t always pay off in a goal, or in a hat trick, but it was awesome to see.”
All six of Richards’ goals this season have come at even strength. That speaks volumes about how valuable she can and will be to the Riveters’ new second line, if Randy Velischek keeps it together.
The D’Oench Factor
Modest, talented, and undeniably a key ingredient to the Riveters’ success, Miye D’Oench made a statement in her first game of the 2018-19 season. D’Oench picked up two assists in the first 19:01 of the game, including a primary assist on Richards’ second goal. The Riveters have now won 12-straight regular season and postseason games with the Harvard alumna in the lineup.
D’Oench admitted that her legs felt heavy on Sunday and that she made some mental errors that were atypical for her, but that was hardly surprising after she spent several months in Kentucky working on the campaign of Democratic candidate Amy McGrath. Velischek made her a healthy scratch on Nov. 18 because of the time that she spent away from hockey.
Rust and all, D’Oench was undoubtedly a factor in the Riveters’ narrow victory over the Whale. In addition to her two assists in the first period, she also created turnovers on the forecheck and created chances and controlled zone entries with her vision and passing.
“I think our line is still getting used to each other — I’m still getting used to the game itself again,” D’Oench chuckled. “Obviously I played with Alexa [Gruschow] a lot last season, so that’s really fun to get back into. I’m really looking forward to gelling even more and building more chemistry.”
Gruschow gets Going
Prior to Sunday’s game Alexa Gruschow, the league’s reigning MVP, was still searching for her first point of the season. With D’Oench back on her wing, Gruschow picked up two assists of her own, including the primary assist on Richards’ hat trick goal. She’s still searching for her first goal of the year, but she doesn’t need to find it anytime soon to prove her worth to the team.
Gruschow’s previous lack of production was surprising, but with that being said she’s had to match up against some exceptionally good centers around the league. Velischek also recently took her off of the second power play unit — six of the center’s 13 assists last season came on the power play — which could be a sign that he likes Gruschow playing a more defensive game, like she did in her rookie season.
The third-year pro has stood out with her effort away from the puck since October, especially on the penalty kill. She also has a 51.5 percent success rate on the faceoff dot. Gruschow doesn’t need to put up points like she did last year to be great. If she sticks to her game and continues to click with D’Oench and Richards, the Riveters certainly won’t be complaining if the points continue to come.
Possession data tracked personally, other data courtesy NWHL.zone, Even-Strength.com.