The Buffalo Beauts snapped their seven-game losing streak on Saturday with a wild 6-5 shootout win, netting Tiffany Hsu her first-ever NWHL win. However, it was back to square one Sunday afternoon as Metropolitan came out roaring, eventually taking the regulation win, 4-3.
Here are some ups and downs from the weekend as far as Buffalo goes:
Up: Secondary scoring
The forward lines have been jumbled for the better part of two months now, but it finally looks as though the Beauts O has the combinations they need to make an impact on all fronts. The first good move was signing Kristin Lewicki to a PTO, then placing her on the top line alongside Taylor Accursi and Cassidy MacPherson. The former Beaut AND Riveter tallied three points (1 G, 2 A) over two games played, giving plenty of speed and jump to an offense that sorely needed it. The other two lines — Brown-Buie-Gehen and Sheriff-Bowering-Klimasova, respectively — all produced, with the latter line combining for a goal and an assist apiece after being largely quiet all season.
Kim Brown and Kandice Sheriff each got their first career goals, and overall the offense looked confident, opportunistic (at least, more so than usual), and finally provided some of the depth coach Pete Perram and staff have been looking for. There haven’t been five different scorers in the lineup since Oct. 20 against the Whale, not to mention this many even strength goals in quite a while for the Beauts.
The defense looks lost and confused out there more often than not, and whatever system is being put in place just isn’t working. While many of the forwards for Buffalo play excellently on both ends of the puck when needed, it’s not enough. The blueline routinely gives up too much space — especially up the middle — and too many odd-skater rushes. Moreover, they have some good size on their end but can’t seem to put it to good use (more on that later). It just isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all their three solid goalies.
Up: Tiffany Hsu
Tiffany Hsu got her first full-weekend start ever this weekend, and she showed up to play. All things considered, she played well and confidently, proving it’s not just Mariah Fujimagari making the big stops for the Beauts and in fact every one of their netminders can come up with a win. Her victory in the shootout Saturday was the first of her career, as mentioned earlier, and she made 63 saves over the two games combined, for an average save percentage of .875 — not stellar by any means, but given the defensive mistakes by Buffalo, I wouldn’t sneeze at it.
Down: Sustaining the lead
The Beauts’ weakness, other than penalties (more on that later!!!), has been holding onto leads. Saturday night’s game could have been in hand in regulation, but they lost three different leads — 2-0, 3-1, and 5-4 — letting the Riveters steal a point and get that much closer to securing the No. 3 seed. The aforementioned penchant for visiting the penalty box plays a role, as does the defensive breakdowns, but overall Perram et al have to really get down to the core of what is going wrong with this team when it comes to closing out a win.
Up: The killing of the penalties
The Beauts’ penalty kill had a banner weekend, holding the Riveters to just one power-play goal on 10 chances over the pair of games. Sunday in particular saw both a major penalty and a 5v3 opportunity for Metro, but Buffalo held firm and kept the power play incredibly quiet throughout. Good to see, especially when it comes to the next point I’m about to make.
Down: The taking of the penalties
The. Beauts. Need. To. Stop. Taking. Penalties.
It’s been a common refrain all year at this point, and I don’t know how much plainer I can make it. It has been the utmost frustration watching this team take a lead and promptly body check, or trip, or hook someone trying to preserve it. The Beauts are the most penalized team in the league, for whatever reason is unclear — yes, there is some size, and some strength, but there’s really no excuse to continue to misuse either of those things.
If the turning point isn’t Sara Bustad’s ejection for kicking at Madison Packer behind the play Saturday night, I don’t know what is. The Zack Kassian Special is never a good idea, and we saw that when Kassian himself received seven games for it. As it was, the Beauts were somewhat more disciplined the following afternoon, and I’m hoping that’s a trend for the better, because this is not sustainable long-term. While I can argue that the officiating in general veers from mostly okay to wildly inconsistent, the Beauts are going to have to modify their game in time for playoffs if they want to continue their representation as that speed-bump on the way to the Isobel Cup.
Looking ahead it’s the Beauts’ final home weekend against Minnesota, and it’s a big two games for Buffalo considering where they’re at in the standings. The Whale can’t catch up even if they won all of their remaining games at this point, but the Beauts are now staring down a potential scenario where they’re facing Connecticut in a play-in game to have a shot at Izzy again. Right now the Riveters are sitting with a comfortable 6-point lead over Buffalo and, with two more games against that same team and one game in hand, the Beauts will need to win every single game they have remaining in order to make that a reality.
It’s not impossible; it’s just going to be extremely tough if they keep playing the way they are now defensively. Minnesota completely lit up this team the last pair of games they played, with a combined 15 goals forced (to Buffalo’s three). I’m sure they’re going to look to do the same again, and while the offense may be closer this time, the Beauts need to figure out how to keep up with the speedy Whitecaps offense and get through to Amanda Leveille early. Leveille is a solid goalie, but is definitely beatable, especially if the Beauts utilize trailers like they have been to clean up the rebounds (and she gives them up, often).
Puck drop is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 and 1:00 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at Northtown Center.