Dirty Goals: Taylor Girard’s first of the season

Here, give it a watch:

That finish! I’ll get to the nitty-gritty, but first let’s talk about what makes this goal special. For perhaps the first time in their history, the Whale started this season as a favorite to win the Isobel Cup. They had come so close last year, in large part to new found offense centered around the play of Taylor Girard and regular season MVP Kennedy Marchment. With all the important pieces returning for another season, expectations were sky high.

Then came their 4-0 loss to the Pride in a rematch of the Isobel Cup Final. It was a hard fought game, but they couldn’t bury their chances, and simply fell apart in the third. Perhaps it was only one game, but it was a game they had to sit with for two weeks. And then a blizzard in Buffalo made it a whole month.

So come Saturday, December 3rd, you know fans were chomping at the bit to see the return of the Whale they knew: strong defense, great transitions, and highlight reel plays from Marchment and Girard. This goal delivered on all three.

It happens on the penalty kill. The Whale play an aggressive "power kill" that keeps two dangerous forwards high on the defenders, making it very hard to calm down and control the play. Down low, the Whale’s defenders limit forward’s space, while maintaining good shot blocking angles. As the saying goes, sticks in the passing lanes, bodies in the shooting lanes. To their credit, the Montreal Force managed this well, but that’s the point: the Force had to spend their time managing instead of setting anything up. And it worked. Connecticut kept Montreal to one goal on eleven power plays over both games this weekend. When you take into account the short handed goal highlighted here, Connecticut came out of the weekend even on the penalty kill. So let’s get to the goal itself.

Everything starts with a hard nosed defensive play from Shannon Turner. She wins the race to the puck and moves it up, sending Girard and Marchment off to the races. Montreal’s Brigitte Laganiere goes all out to stop the pass across, and almost does, but Kennedy Marchment doesn’t wait for the puck to come to her, and cuts across to collect it. Girard curls to the middle finding space on the other side of three backchecking Force players. Overlaps like this can really disorient defenders, and in this case it’s effective, as Downey-Landry, the closest backchecker to Girard, looks like she’s not sure what to do. Marchment’s no-look drop pass tees the puck up perfectly. If you’re curious what chemistry between two great players looks like, look no further.

Girard’s finish is the chef’s kiss. Marchment’s drop pass isn’t directly back, but moves across the front of the goal setting up a one-timer. Nine times out of ten, when you’re taking a one-timer, you’re looking for a close side shot, trying to beat the goalie before they get across the crease. In this case that would be the glove side. Goalie’s tend to give a little more room on their glove side because their glove has more dexterity than their blocker. It becomes a game between the power and placement of the shot, against the goalie’s ability to find it with their glove. Would Girard rip it under Deguire’s arm, or try and sneak it over her shoulder top shelf? Deguire knows this and moves out to cut off the angle. If you look close, you can see her twitch her glove in anticipation.

But great goal scorers defy expectations. Girard goes the other way, firing into the blocker side space Deguire opened up. The placement was perfect. Deguire didn’t have a chance. From my couch, I involuntarily made a loud noise, because wow, that was incredible. Short-handed too!

Connecticut lost the game in a shootout, but this goal stands as an important moment in their season. After getting blanked by Boston a month ago, they rediscovered their scoring touch as the dynamic duo dazzled once again. The Whale went on to get their first win on Sunday. Perhaps the Force were a tougher opponent than they expected, but there's lots to be optimistic about in Whale country. Connecticut have turned a corner on a disappointing start, and I believe that turn began with Girard's stunning goal.