Sunday's game marked the halfway point in the Riveters' season, and they really needed the win. In fact, I would say they desperately needed the win. The game wasn't perfect, and could have easily ended differently, but they got it and we'll take it. Returning to the lineup were D'Oench, Burke, and Kessel. You better believe I savored the announcement confirming D'Oench and Burke assisted on the first goal! Those two were greatly missed.
Anyway, even though the Rivs got the win, there are some definite Riv Rants.
~ The Power Play. Ugh, the power play ... what a tire fire. Not going to lie, I had some hope the PP would work itself out with Burke's return. Unfortunately it looks like there's more going wrong than who's on it/not on it. Coaches, it's time to go back to the books. Study up on special teams and get the PP working. It's utterly dreadful, and the team needs to capitalize on the player advantage. Let's fix it!
~ Seesaw play. I'm tempted to name this game Jekyll and Hyde, because there really were two completely different Riveters' teams playing.
Period one was like watching S3 Rivs again. A little rusty due to the offseason, but finally shaking off the cobwebs. After all, 12 of the 16 players on the ice Sunday were on the championship team, and the return of D'Oench and Burke rounded out the forwards and defense (though I'd still argue that the Rivs should be playing well even with those two out).
Period two was really erratic. The Rivs started with the momentum they had in period one and then, immediately after failing to capitalize on their first power play of the game, switched right back to S4 Mr. Hyde play. I’m not sure if it was a collective mental hiccup, or a Riveters Power Play Curse, but the whole team started playing on their heels. They allowed the Whale to dominate period two. It's mindboggling to say this, but the Rivs play actually got worse when ever they had the player advantage. The third Riveters power play (which started with two seconds of 5-on-3) allowed the Whale to score a beautiful short handed goal to take the lead. Not good.
Period three started with the Whale dominating play again. They were really working hard to get that fourth goal and finish the game. Somehow the Rivs managed to wake up Dr Jekyll, realizing they could not afford to lose another game. They took control, rushed the net, peppered Räisänen with pucks trying to get anything past her, and the Rivs were rewarded with the tying goal from Richards to push the game to 4-on-4 OT.
~ NWHL overtime is usually five minutes of 4-on-4. About two minutes in the Rivs were called for hooking, and then the Whale lost their advantage after getting called for interference. The two penalties allowed for an extremely unusual situation for both teams, 3-on-3 OT. So much ice, so much potential! Why did the Rivs AGAIN play it with two D? I understand trying to be cautious, but a 3-on-3 is the best opportunity to unleash your forwards and allow them to use all that empty ice to be creative and score. Especially since you already clinched a point, be aggressive.
~ This is a general NWHL complaint, but I really don't like the shootout. Not sure what they can do instead since there are time constraints on the games, but it would be nice to see anything that allows the players a chance to end the game in OT. Maybe if the game isn't decided with 4-on-4, add another five minutes of OT but make it 3-on-3. Then if no one scores go to the shootout. Anyway, some food for thought.
~ We need an official Hat Trick Hat Return Policy. I do not want to risk losing my vintage S1 well-weathered Riveters hat, even for a hat trick. Yes, I was excited to see Richards get a hatty at home, but I'm a sentimental fool, and I don't want to lose my stuff!
~ All three lines were finally rolling. Well, only for 20 minutes in P1, but that period really showed what Riveters hockey is all about. Constant pressure from every line, attacking the net, keeping the puck in the offensive zone, and scoring goals. I also really liked the player combinations.
Russo-Kessel-Packer back together for the first line, looking good as always. Kessel was really playing hard, pushing the offense, and creating space to keep the puck and get scoring chances.
The second line reunited D'Oench and Gruschow, and added in the hot rookie, Richards. What else can I say about this line except that they were fabulous! They shined with a combined seven points in the game, which included the hat trick from Richards, and this line kept the Rivs in the game ultimately allowing the team to push OT.
Lewicki-Lawler-Nash. While they may not have made a splash on paper, they were really noticeable in a good way, and allowed the Rivs to keep offensive pressure. Quick and aggressive, they also had a lot of scoring opportunities. I really loved seeing all three together, and Lawler looked a lot more comfortable back in center. I hope this line sticks together. There's a lot of potential, and they will only get better the more they play.
The only thing left to do figure out how to have all three of these lines play hard for a full 60 minutes.
~ Sassy start! Sass started on Sunday and played great. Anyone who follows her on social media knows she did a ton of offseason training, and it definitely paid off. She looked super comfortable in net. Congrats on the W!
~ Audra Richards Hat Trick!! With a game that had two hatty watches, this Rivs fan is very happy the Riveters were the ones to get it!
~ Two points for D'Oench in her first game back!
~ Two points for Gruschow! (FINALLY!)
~ One point for Burke in her first game back!
~Kessel with the shoot out goal!
~ First home win of the season!
Really interesting game overall. Yes, the Riveters managed to get the W, but with the period two mistakes and inconsistent play, the game could have ended in favor of either team. Mrázová in particular stuck out. She controlled the play whenever she was on the ice, and the Whale followed her lead. However, it was wonderful to see moments of the Riveters Hockey we all love to watch, and it's reassuring to know the team still has it. The real test will be if they are able to maintain it. It will also be interesting to see a full and healthy Riveters team against the other NWHL teams. Hopefully the Rivs take the lessons and momentum from this game and apply them to the rubber match against The Whale in Pittsburgh next weekend.
Another Riveters storyline to keep an eye on is the starting goaltender. Sass did well, and I really liked seeing her play. Compared to her last start in season three, she had great confidence and did well keeping the puck out. It's going to be interesting to see who starts in the next game, I can see Sass again. However, I also think Fitzgerald should be given another chance, especially with Burke back on the blue line. In every game Fitzy played this season, the players in front of her didn't do too many favors, and I'm not convinced she should lose her starting position. Worst-case scenario, the Riveters have to 'suffer' with two solid net minders.
I'm going to conclude this Rants and Rivs with a plea. Please, please, please work on special teams. Try something different, two defenders on the power play is still not working. Humor Rivs fans and try 4F and 1D. It may work, who knows!