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NWHL Stock Report: Roll Caps

Minnesota goes Whale hunting, steamrolls Connecticut

Meeri Räisänen for MVP?
Pat McCarthy

With winter weather postponing this weekend’s matchup between Boston and Metropolitan, all eyes were trained towards Minnesota for a doubleheader between the Whitecaps and the Connecticut Whale.

It did not go particularly well for the Whale.

Two games, 11 goals allowed, 0 goals scored, one injured goaltender. Yikes.

Only one game is scheduled for this Saturday: a marquee battle in Buffalo against the Pride. Let’s take a look at who’s hot, who’s not, and who to keep an eye on this weekend.

Trending up: Meeri Räisänen, CTW | 59 saves on 63 shots in two games vs MIN
There are a lot of ways to interpret the phrase, “Most Valuable Player.” Is it an award bestowed upon the best player in the league? One given to a player who produced good numbers on the most successful team? Or should it be given to a player performing at an unbelievable level salvaging what could very well have been a disastrous season?

She likely won’t get any votes for this year’s MVP honors. But let’s have some fun and talk about why Whale goaltender Meeri Räisänen deserves to be in the conversation.

Räisänen was under siege all weekend in Minnesota. She stopped 38 of 40 shots Saturday, and the two goals given up were on wide-open uncontested one-timers from below the hashmarks. The Whale mustered just 19 shots on goal against Amanda Leveille.

Sunday looked to be more of the same, with Räisänen getting peppered with shots while her team struggled to attack and sustain pressure. Then, disaster. Towards the end of the second period, Räisänen plowed into the goalpost and came up lame. Fortunately the word is she only suffered a deep bruise, but the injury forced her out of the game and her status for the immediate future remains unclear.

Connecticut traded away backup goaltender Maria Sorokina to the Riveters and rookie Sam Walther has parted ways with the team. That left recently signed goalie coach-turned-backup Laura Brennan to backstop the third period.

The 34-year-old Brennan allowed seven goals on 18 shots.

Honestly, almost none of the goals Brennan allowed were particularly egregious, as her defense folded like a bad poker hand in front of her. It was a shooting gallery. But it provides tangible evidence to just how many goals Räisänen saves above the average goalie.

This weekend marked the third and fourth times the Whale have been shutout this season. It’s admittedly hard (one might say impossible) to win when you don’t score, but Räisänen has always been able to keep things within reach throughout the season.

Sunday was a sort of It’s a Wonderful Life glimpse at what life would be like this season without her. If Connecticut were smart, they’d lasso the moon to get her to stay in Stamford next season and get her a better supporting cast of scorers.

For now, pray for a speedy recovery so she may save this team from a play-in game loss come postseason time.

Trending down: Taylor Marchin, CTW | Team-worst -5 in two games vs MIN
It was objectively a bad defensive weekend for Connecticut. The fact that the Whale were without their top defender in Shannon Doyle certainly did not help, but...

I mean, look at this.

Image has somehow not been photoshopped to make Thunstrom more open.
Youtube/NWHL

What is going on here. What comedy of errors led to Allie Thunstrom being this open? Well, let’s take a closer look at this abomination, which came as a result of not one, but two failed zone exits from Taylor Marchin.

Twitter/@NWHL

Marchin has held the puck in her zone for a few seconds and has already made a nifty move to evade an oncoming forechecker. She finds herself against the wall with a choice to make: slide the puck to her right to her winger Hanna Beattie, or bank the puck off the wall and hope it clears the zone.

She elects for the latter, and the subsequent turnover leads to a shot off the post. But okay, the puck finds its way back onto Marchin’s stick along the wall.

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Again, Marchin is faced with a conundrum. Beattie is once more behind her as the safe choice for a controlled zone exit, and ahead of her is the danger zone. Remembering her mistake from moments ago, she deftly directs the pass back to her teammate and I’m just kidding HIIIIGHWAY TOOO THE DANGERZOOONE

Boom goes the dynamite.
Youtube/NWHL

Marchin was also out-muscled behind the net leaving Hannah Brandt wide open in front of the net for a point-blank shot in the low slot. She was also a -3 in the Sunday afternoon 9-0 debacle that brought her into a tie for the worst +/- of the weekend at -5.

Last week’s Stock Report touched on just how essential it is to this Whale team that more players step up in the depth scoring department. Same goes defensively. A team that relies on one solitary player for defensive cohesion is doomed to fail. Smarter decisions have to be made with the puck and there simply needs to be more desperation in breaking up passing lanes.

We saw just how bad things can get when just two players, Räisänen and Doyle, are removed from the equation.

Hopefully Connecticut got the message.

Trending up: Maddie Elia, BUF | 8 points in last three games
While we’re on the subject of MVP candidates, let’s talk about Maddie Elia, and how she is a top-five player in this league.

Elia is without question the biggest snub from this year’s All-Star Game. Rosters were announced so long ago that it might have been easy to forgive the oversight had she had a quiet couple of games leading up to the festivities in Nashville.

Nope. She’s exploded for three goals and five assists in just her last three games. She is now tied for the league lead in goals with linemate Hayley Scamurra (9), tied for sixth in assists (7) and third in points (16), trailing Scamurra and Minnesota’s Jonna Curtis by just a point.

There’s more to her game than just pure scoring ability. Her defensive game has grown significantly over the last year, using her reach to her advantage. At 5’10, she’s one of the tallest in the game and uses her stick to wreak havoc on the forecheck.

Elia tends to play with an edge (which has earned her a fair share of trips to the penalty box in her time) but it’s that kind of tenacity that makes her a weapon, using defense to create offense.

“I’ll take that, thank you very much”
Youtube/NWHL

Her size also makes her an ideal body down low, setting screens and using her mitts to score in close. Buffalo generates chances in front of the netminder better than anyone else as a team, but Elia contributes to this two-fold. She not only can situate herself at the “bumper” position between the hashmarks, moving and/or shooting the puck from a high-danger spot, but can also take the goalie’s eyes away by using her frame to her advantage.

Can’t stop what you can’t see. Bird Box logic.
Youtube/NWHL

Maddie Elia could very well win MVP this year, yet we won’t be seeing her in Nashville in February. Throw some respect on her name.

Trending down: Katie Burt vs Buffalo | 1-2 vs Beauts on the season
Katie Burt is an excellent goaltender, having an excellent rookie season. Yet she is a goaltender that has fallen into certain tendencies against certain opponents this season.

On the one hand, she’s a perfect 3-0 against the Minnesota Whitecaps, carrying over her run of collegiate dominance over Minnesotan schools as netminder for Boston College.

On the other, she is just 1-2 against the Buffalo Beauts this season with a 3.33 goals-against average and .882 save percentage. In her last game against the Beauts she was yanked from the contest midway through the third period after allowing four goals on 39 shots.

Burt could very well change the narrative, but she and her defense will need to limit the mistakes against a potent Buffalo offense. Otherwise we could be looking at another high-octane scorefest Saturday afternoon.

Trending up: Allie Thunstrom, MIN | 2 goals, assist, 7 SOGs in two games vs CTW
Thunstrom’s first goal is above, the eventual game-winner from Saturday. But take a look at her second from Sunday.

Thunstrom. Feel the Thunstrom. Lightning and the Thunstrom.
Youtube/NWHL

Nasty. Thunstrom now has four goals and three assists on the year.