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Three ups, three downs: Buffalo in a hole early in a short season

The Beauts have one point of a possible four — the back end is improving, but the offense leaves a lot to be desired so far

Buffalo Beauts defender Alyson Matteau reaches for the puck around Boston Pride forward Sammy Davis in a game in Lake Placid, NY on Jan 24, 2021.
Michelle Jay

During Saturday’s post-game conference in Lake Placid, Beauts head coach Pete Perram (who’s known for his flashy headgear) joked he only brought the one hat with him — a classic black fedora. After witnessing the first two games, perhaps he should have brought one more for luck.

The Beauts took one point of a possible four in the opening weekend of play in what’s affectionately been dubbed the “N-Dubble,” stealing a point out from under Connecticut in a shootout loss Saturday before being drubbed by Boston 5–1 on Sunday night. Two games in two nights proved to be a bit much for this young team, who played the Whale very tightly on the back of a 42-save feat by rookie netminder Carly Jackson, but couldn’t repeat that same play for a full 60 against the Pride. It was reminiscent of a lot of the growing pains we saw in 2019–20 — only this time, the veteran presence of a Corinne Buie or a Taylor Accursi is sorely missed.

Here are the takeaways from the weekend:

Up: The Beauts’ renowned confidence in their defense

Assistant captain Marie-Jo Pelletier stated her defense got “a few bad breaks from lucky bounces” Sunday night against Boston, but despite the score, the blue line is communicating better and playing more cohesively as a unit. Obviously she sees more than we’re able to on the broadcasts, and we are seeing a little more puck moving and responsibility from the D corps. The offense is also helping out, with Jordan Juron and Neve Van Pelt doing well on the penalty kill and the backcheck respectively. There are some kinks to work out as far as breaking out of the zone and puck protection — there were some bad giveaways that hampered the Beauts’ chances of actually driving up-ice — but that the players seem to see a shift in the tide is a good sign.

Down: Penalties abound again

Buffalo looked like it was turning a corner when it came to discipline against the Whale, taking two penalties all game (and those not coming until the third period). Sunday night, however, was a different story altogether. Though the Beauts have some smaller players, they also have players like Alyson Matteau, Iveta Klimášová, and Whitney Dove (more on her in a moment), who are larger and more physical. All took PIM Sunday night, giving Boston plenty of time to work out the power play, which scored twice. In total, the Beauts took six minors and a major against the Pride, who are obviously a fast and skilled team with much more experience in their lineup than we see on Buffalo’s end. Still, the coaching staff is going to have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to rein in this team quickly.

Up: Carly Jackson proving her mettle

The 2020 third overall draft pick was definitely a name to watch heading into the bubble, and she showed exactly why this weekend. Jackson faced 83 shots combined over two days and turned away 77 of them, including some beauties against the Pride in the third period when Buffalo had no real chance of coming back. She was also the difference maker against the Whale, fighting down to the wire with Abbie Ives on the other end in the shootout. It’s great to see Buffalo with a young, promising goaltender like Jackson in net, and if this organization can pull it together, we may be able to see it grow like the Whale have, building from the back end up.

Down: Offense continuing to struggle

We knew heading into this that the loss of Taylor Accursi was going to be a big one for the offense, and as of right now, the Beauts still seem to be looking for that offensive presence. Juron has the drive and the experience, which both Pelletier and associate coach Rhea Coad spoke to after Sunday’s game where she was the lone scorer. Still, she hasn’t really played with this specific group, and so there’s still that learning curve of trying to get into a groove with the rest of your offense. Kristin Lewicki and Brooke Stacey have both been strong on the puck and gotten some great looks, Lewicki having two points in as many games, but Stacey has yet to finish on one — and you have to think the rest of the league is going to look to shut down Lewicki’s speed at some point. Kayla Meneghin got an assist on Juron’s goal yesterday but has yet to come up with a tally of her own. Overall, there has been progress, but will it be enough to get them where they need to be come the round robin?

Up: Two days off!

Two days off to regroup, to look at video, to work on systems, and to scout the other teams they haven’t played yet (as all three of those will be playing on Tuesday). That, combined with the positive outlook Coad says the coaching staff has heading out of opening weekend, should bode well for the Beauts against the Riveters on Wednesday night.

Down: The fate of Whitney Dove

Dove, whose time on ice is near team-leading Pelletier’s, took a late major due to a hit to the head on Boston’s Lexie Laing, earning her first ever game misconduct (obviously not an auspicious sign). Now, the Beauts face the very likely possibility that she will have to sit out the game against Metro, putting them down a defender against a team that has given them fits in the past and hasn’t lost a whole lot in terms of personnel. The Rivs are 2–0 and don’t seem to be slowing down; defensively, they could shut down Buffalo just like they did Connecticut late in yesterday’s game should Buffalo fall behind. Of course, their forwards also pose a big threat, with the added speed of Rebecca Russo, the size and prowess of Emily Janiga, and Kelly Babstock once again on the other side of the ice against Buffalo (where they never want her to be). We’ll see what happens should the Beauts have to dress just five D.

Puck drop is at 8:30 p.m. (ET).

Notes:

  • Lewicki took a hard spill into the boards during Sunday night’s game, earning her a penalty shot that was stopped by Victoria Hanson. When asked how she’s doing, Coad got to the point: “She’s great.” I guess that’s that!
  • The Beauts apparently blocked 19 shots against Boston, which is insane combined with the 40 shots that did get through to Jackson. They’ll need to clean up their end of the ice and get the zone breakouts going soon if they want a win out of the next three games.
  • Speaking of blocks, Matteau leads all Beauts in that category with 9 in two games played, doing exactly what she was signed to do. She looks to be faring well on that top pairing with Pelletier (and yes, we all know that height difference is hilarious as well).
  • We mentioned TOI a bit earlier, and thanks to InStat Hockey, we know MJP and Dove are No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in that category, with Pelletier logging 24:26 and Dove not far behind with 24:01. Again, can’t stress how much it’ll hurt to lose Dove against Metro if a suspension is assessed.