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Grading the Boston Pride’s first half

The Pride are playing true to their game, and it’s working.

The Pride had only four wins last season, ending with 12 points and a –15 goal differential. This year, at the halfway point, they have six wins, 12 points, and a +17 goal differential. They’re in a points tie for first place with the Minnesota Whitecaps, which is even more impressive considering their last season. But is their success just luck, or can the Pride finish as strong as they’ve started?

Offense: A

The Pride’s offense is aggressive and consistent. They lead the league in 5-on-5 shots for at 188, and are second in total shots for with 212 behind the Riveters. They have the most goals for (34), the most goals for at even strength (23), and the most power-play goals in the league (four). There have been only two games this season where the Pride have scored less than three goals, and both were losses (a last-second 3–2 loss to the Riveters, and a 5–2 loss to the Beauts). In all but one of their games, they’ve won by three or more goals. The real story, though, is how this offense is being generated.

It’s no question that the returning Olympians have had a huge impact on this squad. Haley Skarupa leads the team in points with 10 and assists with seven. Gigi Marvin, who last played on the Pride’s blue line, has six goals and three assists for nine points this season as a forward. Amanda Pelkey has three goals, one of which was a shorthanded tally against the Riveters earlier this month that sparked the Pride’s offense to roll to a 5–2 win.

The Olympians, though, are not carrying this team on their own. Veteran captain Jillian Dempsey, like Marvin, has six goals. They’re both in a six-way tie for the most goals scored in the league at the holiday break. Her eight points is third-most on the team. Rookie McKenna Brand is keeping pace with four goals and nine points. Her five assists are second only to Skarupa’s. She’s not the only rookie on the team putting up points, either — over the last few games, defender Mallory Souliotis has scored three goals and recorded one assist. Two of her goals have been on the power play, which leads the team.

The depth scoring on the Pride ensures that the teams they face have to do more than shut down one juggernaut line, and it shows. There just doesn’t seem to be any way to escape unscathed when facing a Pride team that shoots this much and this well.

Defense: A–

It’s hard not to give a solid A to a defense that’s this good at shot suppression. Boston has allowed only 179 shots on goal this season, only 146 of which were at even strength. The only team allowing less is Buffalo. Accordingly, the Pride have also allowed the second-least goals against with 17. They have not allowed a power-play goal this season. The only other team to do that is Minnesota.

And yet ... there’s a minus next to that A. Why? Well, for one thing, when the Pride does make mistakes on defense, there seems to be a pattern. The Pride’s biggest loss this season came at the hands of the Buffalo Beauts, a day after the Pride beat them. One problem the Pride seemed to be having was clearing out their crease.

Look at the photo below: there’s no body between the circled player and the completely open net. One of the benefits of a goalie that comes out to cut down angles is that you see a lot less in the way of quality shot attempts. One of the drawbacks is that you always have to be ready to cover the back post when she does come out, and here, the defender could have been using her body to take the player out of the crease. That would have left the other Beauts player with an open shot at the net, but in an ideal world, the defender on the right would have her covered. It is not an ideal world: the Pride did get scored on here.

Parking players in the crease paid dividends for the Beauts this game. In the play shown below, again, there’s someone set up by the back post, waiting for a pass across for her to tap it in. Burt is covering the near post, anticipating a shot from the player on her right. The defense should be anticipating a pass across and covering the back post. This is another instance where the Pride were so close to having it, but not quite close enough. The contact that’s coming between the defender and the circled Beauts player came too late to save a goal, and the open corner of the net was an easy target for her.

Although the Pride did win their last game before the break, they made a similar defensive mistake against the Riveters. Madison Packer may be big and strong, but she’s not slow, and taking their eyes off of her for a second let her get right into the crease. Burt could not have hoped to make a save with both her defender and the opposing player standing on top of her. She’s very good (see below), but nobody is that good.

The Pride’s defense has been good, but they can still improve by making sure Katie Burt’s crease is as clear as possible, cutting down on the potential for back-door goals when she comes out to challenge the shooting player.

Goaltending: A

In her eight games played as a pro, Katie Burt has played more minutes than any other goalie in the league at an even 480. She and Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille are tied with six wins, and her 2.12 GAA is the third-best in the league, behind only Buffalo’s gold-medal tandem. Her .913 SV% is good, but the numbers don’t tell you everything you need to know. Comparing her to Olympic goaltenders like Nicole Hensley, Shannon Szabados, and Meeri Räisänen — and being able to say that her stats compare at all — is beyond impressive. That her SV% is only .003 behind last year’s Goaltender of the Year (Leveille) is a testament to just how good she really is.

One of the things that have made her so good this season are her ability and willingness to come out of the crease and challenge the puck carrier.

The other thing that characterizes her play is how calm she is in the net. At no point this season, even with Packer standing on top of her, has the rookie goaltender and former first-overall draft pick panicked. Here’s an example: faced with Olympic gold-medalist and NCAA champion Amanda Kessel, she makes a glove save look like second nature.

Overall: A

The Pride have looked really, really solid this season, and it’s not a mistake. Their underlying numbers — shooting a lot, and not allowing many shots against — plus their depth on offense and an outstanding goaltender, make them a serious contender if they can keep scoring and be a little more aware of opponents crowding their crease.