With first place well within reach, the Buffalo Beauts cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Boston Pride to bring themselves within four points of the Whitecaps with two games in hand.
Minnesota will be the only team on a bye this weekend. So let’s take a look at who’s hot, who’s not and who to keep an eye on as the rest of the league plays catch-up.
Trending up: Dani Cameranesi, BUF | Goal, two assists vs BOS
Last week I wrote about Maddie Elia and her pursuit of the league MVP despite her not being elected to the All-Star Game in Nashville. Her stock continues to rise as she potted two goals and fired a whopping 12 shots on goal last Saturday against the Pride.
With Elia and Scamurra tearing it up for the second consecutive year, it almost gets taken for granted just how solid the third member of their line has been—ironic, given that Dani Cameranesi had the larger national profile of the three heading into this season.
Cameranesi was a prodigy at the University of Minnesota and most recently won gold at the 2018 Olympics with Team USA. Her signing turned heads around the league, heralding a clear “Izzy-or-bust” mentality for Buffalo this season. Yet, it almost seems like Cameranesi has flown under the radar this season for how consistently good she’s been.
“Dani Minnesota” notched a goal and two assists plus five shots on goal in Saturday’s win. She now sits second in the league in assists (10) and fourth in points (14). She’s registered a point in seven of her 10 games played, five of those contests resulting in multi-point performances.
So why has she flown under the radar? Well, there’s the inherent answer that goals (usually) are more grabby than assists, and Cameranesi did start off the year with only one goal in her first seven games. Plus, she only has one power play point to her name: an assist she picked up in the final game of 2018.
A fun fact: all four of Cameranesi’s goals have been scored off a zone-entry rush. Cross the blueline, drive to the net, forehand shot top shelf. One of those four goals was scored on a penalty shot, another a breakaway, the other two on two-on-ones.
Though she may be one of the best playmakers in the league, she deserves respect as one of the best net-drivers in the league, as she was in her collegiate days. The bottom line is, Cameranesi is not exactly someone you want to see bearing down on you if you’re a goalie.
Camernesi earned this week’s NWHL Veda Player of the Week award for her performance.
Trending down: Connecticut’s power play | 1-for-31 in last eight games
Among the Connecticut Whale’s bevy of problems is their power play. They have only scored three times with the advantage this season, and are 1-for-31 dating back to November 25th.
Coupled with the fact that they are going up against the second-best penalty killing unit in the league in the Boston Pride (91.1%), things are not looking terribly encouraging heading into this weekend.
The Whale are a league-worst 3-for-42 on the season, which translates to a paltry 7.1% efficiency rate. While this ties into their general lack of depth, a prevalent issue throughout the season, it puts them in a similar position as last season when they were just 4-for-55 (7.3%).
It’s sadly not a new problem, and probably not one that can be addressed until the offseason when the team can potentially add more offensive weapons to the roster.
Trending up: Shannon Szabados, BUF | 20 saves on 21 shots in win vs BOS
Make way for the Goaltender of the Year.
I’m calling my shot. Granted, had you placed a bet at the beginning of the year as to who would take home that title, Szabados likely would have been the odds-on favorite. But even by Shannon Szabados standards, she has been spectacular.
Remember Bob Gibson the old St. Louis Cardinals pitcher? Bob Gibson won the Cy Young in 1968 by leading the league in strikeouts with 268, walks-and-hits per innings pitched (WHIP) with a ridiculous 0.853 and earned-run average with a ludicrous 1.12. Bob Gibson was so good that season that Major League Baseball outright changed the rules for 1969, lowering the height of the pitching mound so pitchers like him couldn’t outright manhandle the rest of the league.
The punchline of the joke is that despite putting together probably the greatest pitching season of the last 60 years, Bob Gibson still lost nine games. Even with comically good MLB-The-Show-on-Easy-Mode statistics, Gibson only finished with a 22-9 record; very good, but nothing that couldn’t be replicated or even exceeded with worse statistics. Bob Gibson was allowing only one run every time he went out to pitch and still lost about 30% of the time.
Anyway, that’s kind of Shannon Szabados’ season. She is second in the league in goals-against average and save percentage with a stellar 1.38 and .944 mark, respectively. She’s second only to her teammate Nicole Hensley, who is mere decimal points ahead in both categories having started half the number of games Szabados has.
And yet, despite allowing roughly only a goal and a half per game, Shannon Szabados is 5-3. A quarter of her starts have been shutouts, she’s allowed more than two goals in a game once all year, yet she’s still been floating around the .500 mark in terms of wins.
In the #NWHL it's the Shannon Szabados show. She's leading the league with a stunning 7.330 GSAA. The next closest starter is Amanda Leveille at 3.490. Szabados is also leading the NWHL with a 0.875 QS%. Next closest is Leveille at a 0.615 QS%.— Giants in the Crease (@CreaseGiants) January 27, 2019
If you haven’t already, go see Shannon Szabados up close and personal, either in Buffalo or at the All-Star Game in Nashville. Because you’ll be watching one of the best women to ever protect the net.
Trending down: Jenny Ryan, MET | 0 points in last four games
Jenny Ryan was a bright star on last year’s championship Riveters squad. On a team that already featured one of the best offensive defenders in the game in Courtney Burke, Ryan proved to be a tremendous complement, racking up three goals and 13 assists in 16 games. She also averaged 3.1 shots on goal per game.
This season, as it’s been for many a Riveter up and down the roster, has been a big step in the wrong direction. Ryan has just one goal and two assists through 12 games and is averaging two shots on goal a game. Two of her three points came on the power play, leaving just one assist at even strength. Last season, six of her 16 points came at 5-on-5.
It’s well-established that the defense under Randy Velischek has been discombobulated, to put it kindly. Metro will be playing host to the Beauts Saturday afternoon. Their first meeting was a 5-1 debacle in which the Riveters were outclassed in every sense. Down 4-1 heading into the final frame, the Rivs were outshot 16-3.
That’s not just bad, that’s humiliating.
Someone needs to grab the reins of this bucking bronco of a season. The team will be without Madison Packer as she serves her one-game suspension from that day’s transgression with Sarah Casorso. The usual cast of characters up front have not found consistency.
Jenny Ryan can thrive when put in the right spots. But she will need to get her touch back after not hitting the stat sheet in four games and not finding the back of the net since the second game of the season back on October 7th.
Ryan and Burke were shutting Buffalo down this time last season. It’s amazing how much difference a year makes.
Trending up: Kendall Coyne Schofield, MIN | Generally being a dope human
Kendall Coyne Schofield was snakebitten in her first six games in the league. It took until December 29th for her to score with a goalie between the pipes despite leading the league in shots by a wide margin all season long.
Since the 29th, she’s got four goals (including a PPG and SHG), three assists and 34 shots in five games.
And she did this.
Kudos to Kendall Coyne Schofield for nailing it on her speed lap, fitting right in on the NBC Wednesday Night Hockey broadcast and successfully stomaching Pierre McGuire at peak Cringe Mode.