Thus far, the 2021-22 PHF season has been full of surprises. Well, there have also been a lot of things that we did expect like Mikyla Grant-Mentis kicking butts and taking names, Amanda Boulier being great in Boston, Amanda Leveille being her team’s MVP, and Kennedy Marchment being the superstar the Whale have needed since the departure of Kateřina Mrázová. It’s been a blast.
Heading into the season, I tweeted out my power rankings. I was all-in on the Boston Pride and had clearly bought in (and fueled) the hype around the new-look Whale.
Only tweeting this bc @quarkyhockey wants me to -— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) November 2, 2021
My PHF power rankings heading into the season.
Note: I think the Beauts and Rivs are about equal on paper.
I also thought that the Six and Riveters were going to take a step back from what we saw from them in Lake Placid. Well, look, I was right about some stuff. Hockey is hard.
Before we dive in, it’s important to keep in mind how much each team has played. At the time of the holiday break, the Connecticut Whale have played half of their regular schedule and the Beauts have played just one-fourth of theirs. It makes sense that we have a much better idea of who and what the Whale are after 10 games than we do the Beauts after five games.
1 | The Toronto Six
Look, I thought the Six were going to miss the depth they lost over the offseason a lot more than they have. I also clearly underestimated the impact of Michela Cava — in my opinion, she has to be in the conversation for a top-10 forward in the league. There’s also the whole Mikyla Grant-Mentis being a clear front-runner for MVP and Elaine Chuli being absolutely brilliant and undefeated in all seven of her starts. That’s right — seven straight wins for Chuli at the holiday break.
Toronto is right where they want to be at the break: at the top of the standings with only one game from 2021 that they’d really like to forget — how did this team lose a game by a score of 8-2? That is the sole blemish on the first half of their regular season and it came at the hands of the Boston Pride. More importantly, all seven of the Six’s wins thus far have come in regulation. The way they are playing right now, you just expect them to come away with points.
Grant-Mentis has 15 points in 9 games to start the season but she is not carrying this squad. The Six are scoring at evens and on the power play and have allowed just two goals in their last four games. They are also getting more offensive production out of their blue line than any other team. The Six are the real deal.
2 | The Connecticut Whale
That’s right, Pride fans, I said it.
The Whale are second in the standings but that isn’t necessarily why I have them here. I have the Whale here because they have a deep, complete group of skaters and they went into the break playing outstanding hockey. They have won their last four games after being handed two losses by the Six and splitting weekend series with the Riveters and Pride.
More so than any other team, I feel that the Whale have gotten better from what we saw in the first few games of the season. Connecticut has two great scoring lines and what may be the best third line we’ve ever seen the franchise have, led by Emily Fluke. Furthermore, the blue line is balanced and Kati Tabin has really shined on the second pair over the last few weeks.
The Whale have also played every other team in the league, so we have a good idea of how they measure up against everyone. It’s already abundantly clear that they have more than enough talent to beat any team in this league on any given night. They are a real power in the PHF.
The Whale’s biggest weaknesses after 10 games is their power play (11.4%) and, more alarmingly, their goaltending. At the break, Connecticut has a team save percentage of .896. That is uncomfortably low for a team that seemed so confident in the play of Abbie Ives heading into the 2021-22 season. It should also be noted that the Whale have a 94.1 PK%. So, the real problem — judging by the surface-level data — has been the goaltending and/or team defense’s performance at evens. That is something that needs to change if the Whale want to make a real run at the Isobel Cup.
3 | The Boston Pride
If it makes Boston fans feel any better, I think the Whale and Pride are pretty much neck-and-neck but I gave the edge to the Whale because they have more regulation wins. Two of Boston’s six wins required extra time, whereas all six of the Whale’s wins came in regulation.
If we’re comparing rosters head to head, I think the Pride have the deepest and best team. So, why are they third in the power rankings? Well, they played half their games against the team at the bottom of the power rankings and have been somewhat inconsistent on the attack. Boston’s offense is either a force of nature — the team that lit lit up Toronto up for eight goals — or a whimper. They have scored one or fewer goals in four of their eight games at the break.
Two really interesting numbers when it comes to the Pride are a league-high 37.0 SF/GP and a league-worst 7.77 team shooting percentage. What do these numbers tell us? Has Boston been unlucky (playing Leveille four times in 2021 doesn’t help) or are they not generating as many high-quality scoring chances as they have in years past? With the data that is publicly available, we just can’t say but it’s important to highlight that this team, with all of its stars, has a 5.7% success rate on the power play.
Listen, with all of that being said, the Pride are still a safe bet to win the Isobel Cup. Two of their goalies could suddenly leave the team and they’d have a better starting goalie than most of the teams in the league. Their depth is just bananas. They are only at the three spot in the power rankings because they’ve been inconsistent and need to show their killer instinct during regulation more often moving forward.
4 | Metropolitan Riveters
The Riveters are the team that I have the worst feel for thus far, which is really saying something because they happen to be the team I have followed the most closely over the last half dozen years.
Here’s the good news, Rivs fans: the team’s top line looks outstanding, Leila Kilduff is healthy and back in the lineup, and Colleen Murphy is providing some offensive punch from the blue line. Here’s the bad news: the Rivs are 1-3-1 in their last five games and are still waiting for a defender to score a goal. So there’s that.
We’ve only seen six games of Riveters hockey this season so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and put them on the board at the four spot. With the exception of their most recent series against the Six, the Riveters have looked good. I still have questions about the blue line and definitely still have questions about depth scoring — at the break, Madison Packer and Rebecca Ruso account for half of the team’s goals — but, as a whole, this team has surprised me.
Something to keep an eye out for is who gets more starts moving forward, Sonjia Shelly or Brooke Wolejko. At the moment, Wolejko’s stats are far superior and she’s played more minutes. At the break she has a .922 Sv% and a 0.457 GSAA/60 in all situations, which are pretty remarkable numbers and well above league average.
5 | Buffalo Beauts
The Beauts have played the fewest games but also have the most potential to become a better overall team by the end of the season. Their record of 1-4-0 isn’t exactly good but there has been a lot to like about how Buffalo has played this far. Head coach Rhea Coad has more weapons at her disposal than the Beauts had in Lake Placid and Carly Jackson has been valiant between the pipes with a .904 Sv% in four starts.
Let’s be blunt, the Beauts need to be better at getting pucks out of their own zone and into the offensive zone. They need to generate more offense at even strength and need to — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — stay out of the penalty box and work on the penalty kill. Fortunately for Buffalo, it appears they have more players who can carry the puck through the neutral zone and there is more than enough talent to put together an effective penalty kill.
There will be growing pains, but there’s a lot to be excited about here. In addition to Jackson standing on her head, Cassidy Vinkle’s been exceptional, and Anjelica Diffendal looks like she can develop into a true impact player. The big question for the Beauts will always come down to offense, so that will be worth keeping a close eye on when the season resumes.
6 | Minnesota Whitecaps
So, who saw this one coming?
Minnesota is 1-6-1 and have scored just seven goals in their last seven games. Yikes.
Until they prove otherwise, the Whitecaps are at the bottom of the barrel here. While it’s true that they beat the Pride for their lone victory of the season, Minnesota just doesn’t look like Minnesota. Allie Thunstrom and Jonna Curtis are the only skaters on the team with more than two points — primary or otherwise — and they only have one power-play goal on 23 attempts. That’s 4.3 percent. Good grief.
Amanda Leveille is doing everything she can between the pipes — and the numbers very much back that up — but Minnesota just isn’t scoring goals. You can’t win hockey games if you don’t score goals. Even more alarmingly, they are being seriously out-shot and presumably out-chanced through eight games. This isn’t just bad luck. The Whitecaps just aren’t doing enough to create scoring chances both at evens and on the power play. The lethal counter-attack that was their hallmark in previous seasons has been toothless beyond the duo of Thunstrom and Curtis.
This holiday break may be just what the doctor ordered for Minnesota. The New Year represents an opportunity for a fresh start where they can get back on track and back to playing more like the Whitecaps. It’s hard to imagine them continuing to struggle in the way that they have. They’re so much better than this.
Data courtesy of the PHF and TheirHockeyCounts.com. Disclosure: the author of this story owns and operates THC.