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NWHL Stock Report: The Home Stretch

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They’re neck-and-neck-and-neck...

Pat McCarthy

Here we are heading into the final weekend of regular season play of the NWHL season and still not a single one of the five standings positions has been locked down. Every team has a lot to play for as the push for Isobel looms on the horizon.

Since returning from the All-Star break, the Riveters have dropped a pair of games including a rare Monday matinee, Boston lit the lamp against Connecticut, and Buffalo continues to be dominant defensively against the anemic Metro squad from Newark.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at who’s hot, who’s not and who to keep an eye on heading into this weekend.

Trending up: Denisa Krizova, BOS | 3 goals, 2 assists in two games last week
Boston’s offense took advantage of the two bottom teams in the league, racking up 14 goals in two games. One of their most prominent weapons on the attack was rookie Denisa Krizova, who extended her point-streak to five games.

Krizova began the year unremarkably, scoring just once in her first 10 games with four assists. Since that point, she has tallied five goals and four assists, storming her way into any Rookie of the Year discussion.

Perhaps most impressive is her shooting percentage over the last three games: 100%. Each of her last four shots on goal has found the back of the net. Her two goals on Sunday were pure artistry, as she snuck a sneaky backhander short-side past new Whale netminder Erin O’Neil in the first then later potted a laser of a wrist shot, again finding the near post.

Goodness gracious, what hands. Her backhand chip comes off her stick so quickly, O’Neil doesn’t have time to appropriately adjust. It’s a thing of beauty.

Joining Krizova on this hot streak has been linemate McKenna Brand, who has two goals and six assists in a five-game point streak of her own. This tandem is vitally important for a run at the Cup. That Gigi Marvin, Haley Skarupa, and Amanda Pelkey will do work on the top line is a given. But a lethal second line, one as productive as theirs currently is, could put them over the top.

Offense will be at the forefront of their final regular season matchup this Saturday, as the Pride play host to the Minnesota Whitecaps. A win would remove Minnesota from first place contention and lock up home-ice advantage in the Isobel Cup Semifinals.

Trending down: Connecticut’s goaltending situation | Six goals allowed vs BOS
The Whale received crushing news last week, as it was announced that goaltender Meeri Räisänen will miss the remainder of the season with a leg injury suffered on Jan. 20. This throws a wrench into an already wretched situation, as now the Connecticut Whale are left scrambling to find a number one goaltender with two games to go in their season.

Connecticut went to work, luring former netminder Shenae Lundberg back for her first professional stint since 2016-17. They also signed Erin O’Neil, a Boston University grad who posted a .922 save percentage and 2.61 goals-against average in 14 games her senior year.

Lundberg took the loss in a 3-1 game against the Pride back on Feb. 2, turning aside 22 of 25. O’Neil was given the start on Sunday, and after allowing six goals on 29 shots, she was pulled after two periods. Lundberg stopped six shots in the final frame.

Based off their respective debuts, it would make sense to hand the starting job to Lundberg. Yet in evaluating O’Neil’s play, she made several impressive stops in the first period to keep the game within reach. Two of the first three goals allowed came off rebounds, and while O’Neil did bleed second chance opportunities, support is also needed to clear the crease. How much can reasonably be blamed on a goalie making her first professional start with a week to go in the season and how much do you chalk up to Connecticut’s generally flawed defense?

The Whale are 2-10-2. If they finish in a points tie with the Metropolitan Riveters, they hold the tiebreaker and will host the 4 v 5 play-in game next week. They have a very real chance at winning that game. But for anyone in Connecticut to feel any modicum of confidence heading into that matchup, there has to be a clear-cut choice for the number one job.

And it isn’t 100% clear yet.

Trending up: Taylor Accursi, BUF | Goal, sick celly vs MET
Taylor Accursi has had a frustrating NWHL career to date. She got out to one of the most explosive starts of any player in 2017-18, tallying five goals on 12 shots in just three games.

Then she went quiet, scoring only one more goal in 12 regular season games and failing to register a point in two postseason contests.

Once more, Accursi scored a clutch third period goal from in front of the net while also firing four shots on goal in her second game played this season. Then for six more games, she was held off the stat sheet.

Accursi now finds herself riding a three game point streak with two goals and an assist. Judging by her reaction to her goal on Saturday, it seems she is all too aware of her streakiness and is enjoying how her hard work is finally paying dividends.

Good on her. Accursi will have two more chances to extend her productivity this weekend with a pair of road games against Connecticut and Metropolitan.

Trending down: Audra Richards, MET | -4 in two games, pointless in last four
Sigh.

There’s enough material about this particular Riveters season to fill a Comedy Central roast. It’s honestly getting redundant. Pick a new player who hasn’t performed up to par every week, talk about the constant lineup turnover, regurgitate how the system is broken and the coaching staff seems unwilling or unable to fix it, rinse, wash, repeat.

So who’s the target this week. Kelsey Koelzer, who doesn’t have a point in 13 games? Courtney Burke, with no goals in 11 games? Even Amanda Kessel, who despite racking up assists only has one goal all season?

Let’s instead turn our attention to Audra Richards, the rookie who has really been one of the only constants in the Riveters’ lineup.

Only eight Riveters have played in all 15 games this season. They have produced 17 combined goals, with Richards scoring eight. Despite a musical chairs rotation of linemates, Richards has been one of the few consistent contributors this season; a bright spot in an otherwise dismal time.

Here’s the rub. Of Richards’ eight goals, six have come against the Connecticut Whale. While that bodes well for the upcoming 4 v 5 game in the playoffs, it is a bit disappointing that she has not been able to spark much offense against the other three more successful teams.

Buffalo especially has smothered Richards, holding her to no points and four shots on goal in three games.

The other fault: Richards has zero assists. None. Shannon Szabados has more assists this year than the Riveters’ top goal scorer. Her general role as the shooter makes this somewhat forgivable, but to not even luck her way into a secondary assist is unfortunate. Even with the lineup constantly being juggled, she played alongside Rebecca Russo and Alexa Gruschow on Saturday. How is a line like that more toothless than “How to Train Your Dragon?”

The Riveters’ offense attempts to dazzle the opposition. Coach Velischek encourages from afar.
Youtube/FilmSelect Trailer

She also was a -4 last week in two games, bringing her down to -10 on the year. That’s tied for third-worst on the team behind Erika Lawler (-13) and Alexa Gruschow (-15). It’s also fifth-worst in the league.

Great players make their entire line better. No one needs more consistency in the lineup to help their game more than Richards.

Trending up: Mary Parker, BOS | Three goals in two games
Mary Parker had herself a week to remember. Parker has been a quiet role player since joining the Pride in 2016-17. She scored one goal with two assists in 15 games last season, playing limited, more defensive minutes.

She thrust herself into the spotlight last Monday by scoring two goals against the Metropolitan Riveters, logging her first career multi-point game and earning Player of the Week honors from the league.

She followed that up with another goal and four shots in a dominant team performance against the Whale on Sunday.

Playoff hockey is notorious for role players and depth scorers making a name for themselves by being in the right place at the right time. Might Mary Parker be one of those players?