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NWHL Stock Report: Another brick in the Walther

Walther sparkles despite defense, Richards is rollin’

Michelle Jay

The Riveters’ defense has problems! Like, a lot of them! The Audra Richards Revenge Tour continues! Will the Pride actually lose a game this weekend?

Let’s take a look at who’s hot, who’s not and who to keep your eye on in this week’s NWHL Stock Report.

Trending up: Sam Walther, MET | Shootout win vs MIN
Sam Walther sparkled in Minnesota, particularly on Saturday in a 3-2 shootout victory over the Whitecaps. The Riveters have won three of their last five games, with Walther being a major reason why.

Minnesota rifled 42 shots on goal Saturday, with Walther stopping 40- plus an additional three shootout attempts. Technically that number should be higher given the kind of breakaways the Whitecaps generated throughout the game. How often do you see an unimpeded rush starting from the opposing blueline?

The Caps’ creativity and stick-handling ability in tight drew defenders out of position forcing Walther to make some big game-saving stops on Saturday, including a spectacular point-blank overtime stop.

Look at Chelsea Brodt Rosenthal’s reaction to that stop in extra time. She knows the opportunity that was missed.

This entire article could be littered with clips of Walther’s best saves from last weekend- or the entire season, if we’re being completely honest. It helps bolster her highlight reel when Metro bleeds shot attempts at the rate that they do (outshot 77-52 this weekend).

But perhaps the most telling stat for Walther and the positive impact she’s had on the team is this: the Riveters have four wins this season. All four have come by one goal. In those four wins, she has a .942 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average. Make no mistake, when Sam Walther is on, she’s on.

Her cumulative stats on the season have been marred by a handful of blowouts at the hands of the dominant Boston Pride, but it should be noted that Walther has by and large kept this ship afloat for the Riveters.

Trending down: Riveters defense | Sheesh
To use a Minnesota colloquialism: oh jeez.

While Sam Walther was able to mask many defensive blemishes on Saturday, the dam burst on Sunday as the Whitecaps potted five unanswered goals en route to a 5-2 victory. Virtually every goal allowed came from a high-danger area, and it was a collective failing up and down the roster.

Goal Number One came from Stephanie Anderson intercepting a pass intended for Cassie Dunne in the neutral zone and blowing past Dunne for a breakaway.

Goal Number Two was a rebound loose in the blue paint on a delayed penalty. A shot from the blueline deflected off a skate and Nicole Schammel fought through Leila Kilduff for the putback.

Goal Number Three was yet another breakaway, this time Audra Richards outmuscled a Kiira Dosdall poke check for a clean look to the net.

Goal Number Four, Audra Richards sprung Allie Thunstrom for a breakaway as she burned Colleen Murphy. Walther stopped the initial shot but Richards pounced on the rebound.

Finally, Goal Number Five was sparked by Sydney Baldwin cutting to the net, Brooke Baker giving a weak fly-by poke check and three other Riveters in the area shrugging and saying to themselves, “meh, Sam’s got it.”

While defenders don’t want to be called for interference or body checking, something needs to be done to impede progress towards the goal. There are five Riveters in the defensive zone protecting against three Whitecaps, only two of them as close as the circles!

A defensive gutting like that is simply inexcusable.

Trending up: Audra Richards, MIN | 3 goals, assist vs MET
Audra Richards certainly seems to love playing against the Metropolitan Riveters.

Last season, Richards scored six of her eight goals against the Connecticut Whale, the other two against Minnesota. Now that she’s a Whitecap, she has redirected that highly specific scoring touch against her former mates. She now has four goals and an assist against the Riveters this season, with two other assists coming against- who else- the Connecticut Whale.

Richards has much more open space with the Caps than she did last season, simply by virtue of being on a more skilled, better coached team than Randy Velischek’s 2018-19 Riveters. This could wind up being a very big year for the 25-year-old Maplewood native.

Richards’ performance earned her the VEDA Player of the Week award from the league.

Trending down: Buffalo vs Boston | Two games this weekend
Beauts-Pride is one of the best rivalries in the NWHL. The two face off every single playoff season. They’ve touted some of the biggest names to come through the league. It’s always a marquee matchup.

It’s been lacking something this season. A little snarl.

That could be because of the roster turnover Buffalo experienced in the offseason, or the fact that Boston has been obliterating opponents with regularity with no real end in sight. The Pride have outscored Buffalo 18-4 in three matchups. Mariah Fujimagari started all three games in Boston.

This weekend features a pair of games in Buffalo for a change. For the Beauts’ sake, they had better come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. Let’s rejuvenate this rivalry a bit here, what do we say?

Considering how easy the Pride have had it and the fact that they’re on the road for just the third time this season, this could be the ideal setup for a Beauts upset. It’s up to them to follow through.

Trending up: Kate Leary, MET | 3 goals, assist vs MIN
Kate Leary might just be the most exciting newcomer in the NWHL this season. Which is really saying something, considering the glut of new talent that has exploded onto the scene of late.

Leary currently leads the Riveters in scoring with 15 points in 10 games thus far. She also leads in power-play goals (3) and shooting percentage (22.2%).

This isn’t the first time Leary has proven herself as an impact player. She had 85 points in 149 career games at Boston College, she led the CWHL’s Boston Blades in scoring in 2016-’17 and ‘17-’18, and tore up the SWHL last year playing for Lugano.

Both Leary and Packer have points in all 10 games for Metro this season. That’s the kind of dynamic duo that could wreak some havoc in the standings down the stretch. If the Riveters can figure out their defense, they could make an interesting push for second in the league come March.