If I were a betting man evaluating the Vegas odds of this past weekend’s set in the NWHL, I’d say the safe money would have been in a Boston blowout win on Saturday and a low-scoring Buffalo win in Connecticut on Sunday.
Lo and behold, the Pride cruised to a 6-1 over the Beauts on Saturday, who in turn bested the Connecticut Whale in a tightly played contest Sunday at Danbury Arena.
Let’s take a look at who’s hot and who’s not around the league.
Trending up: Mallory Souliotis, BOS | 2 primary assists vs BUF
Souliotis had an eventful game Saturday, setting up a pair of beauties against the Buffalo Beauts. The first was a stretch pass from the neutral zone that found McKenna Brand in stride, who beat Mariah Fujimagari cleanly with a wrist shot.
The second apple was from a perfectly disguised pass from the left point. Taking a step towards the net and teeing up what the defense took to be a shot, she deftly wired it to the hashmarks where Mary Parker was waiting to redirect the puck to the back of the net.
Souliotis’ assists may not have come at crucial points in the game - of which there were very few, Boston dominated from the jump - but they did have a major effect on Buffalo morale. Her first assist came just 13 seconds after the Pride’s third goal of the game. Her second came early in the third period, snuffing out any hope the Beauts may have had about a 4-1 comeback.
In other words, Souliotis was positively ruthless. Expect her to be in the thick of it this Saturday against Connecticut.
Trending down: Buffalo’s net-front coverage
Buffalo allowed numbers in front of the net far too easily. Even on non-scoring plays, it was apparent that the Pride’s gameplan was to get two forwards in deep, one on each post. That way, they could have both defenders and a player at the bumper position in the high slot controlling the puck.
With the puck mostly being operated at the perimeter, Buffalo took the bait hard and took their eyes off the forwards down low. Simply count the Mississippi’s that Mary Parker spends all alone in front of the net:
The Beauts continually allowed second and even third chances throughout the game because Boston outnumbered them down low. It happened at virtually every strength, be it 5-on-5 as in the above clip...
...or 4-on-4, like Tori Sullivan tacking on the 6th goal of the game with a second option lurking at the far post...
...or collapsing in on the powerplay. This instance didn’t result in a goal, only because Mariah Fujimagari made a spectacular sprawling save from post to post. The puck is on McKenna Brand’s stick, and as if that weren’t dangerous enough, there’s a screen in front open for redirection and a cross-ice option at the far circle.
Boston simply runs their opponent into the ground by swarming the netminder, and until they meet a team willing to bully them down low, they will continue to impose their will offensively.
Trending up: Kayla Meneghin, CTW | Goal vs BUF
Kayla Meneghin is currently riding a three-game goal scoring streak. Her latest tally came with five minutes remaining in regulation time with the Whale trailing by two. How was she able to find the back of the net and ruin Kelsey Neumann’s shutout?
Well, by crashing the front of the Buffalo net, of course!
Meneghin’s best asset is her strength in close. All three of her goals this season have been scored from the hashmarks or below, the first being a stuff-in against Buffalo, the second being a breakaway goal against Minnesota.
The more Connecticut can utilize Meneghin down low, the better. She’s capable of penetrating defenses like not many Whale players can, which is a big reason why she is the team’s leading goal scorer despite only playing in four of Connecticut’s six games. One would imagine she’ll be a favorite of head coach Colton Orr’s as he gets more acclimated to his roster.
Connecticut will need all the offense they can get as they pay a visit to Boston Saturday evening.
Trending down: Buffalo’s possession game | outshot 83-45 in two games
Here’s a fun fact: the Buffalo Beauts have outshot their opponents exactly zero times this season. They equaled the Connecticut Whale in shots on goal once this season. In every other matchup, they have been outshot and out-chanced.
This weekend in particular, they surrendered over 40 shots to both the Boston Pride and Connecticut Whale. It’s a bend-don’t-break strategy that relies heavily on an opportunistic offense and their goaltender bailing them out.
It’s hard to say it isn’t working for them, as the Buffalo Beauts currently sit second in the league at 4-3-0, but all four wins have come against the last-place Whale. They still have four more matchups with the Boston Pride and six with the Minnesota Whitecaps. They will need a fix to their possession woes pronto, because the defending champs are coming to town this Saturday and Sunday.
Trending up: Kelsey Neumann, BUF | 41 saves in 3-1 win over CTW
The Connecticut Whale have been starving for goals, and Kelsey Neumann did them no favors on Sunday afternoon. She carried a shutout for 55 minutes and finished with a 41-save performance, stymying the Whale in her first full start of the season.
Neumann had not played a full 60 minutes yet this season. Coming the night after a drumming at the hands of the Pride, the Beauts needed a strong outing from her, and did she ever deliver.
Her victory in net earned her the VEDA Player of the Week honors from the league. Considering how much of a fan favorite she is, and how long she’s waited to finally finish out a game, Sunday’s game was more than just a run of the mill win. This was a momentous occasion for one of the league’s darlings, someone so easy to root for because of her infectious energy and positivity.
I think Anya Packer said it best.
The story of @lilneumy putting in work last season after not getting offered a spot on S4 @BuffaloBeauts and COMING BACK TO BE @vedaecn PLAYER OF THE WEEK IS THE DEFINITION OF PERSISTENCE CONFIDENCE AND POWER Proud to have her on the @nwhlpa https://t.co/JvJlmkNCDG— Anya Packer (@battaglinoa) November 19, 2019