Thus far, Lake Placid has belonged to the NWHL’s goalies. As of this morning, the average save percentage for the 11 goaltenders to appear in a game was .932. Even for a sample size of 10 games, that is remarkably high. To the surprise of precisely no one, Amanda Leveille is one of the netminders leading the charge in what has become a showcase for the league’s goaltenders.
Make no mistake, the Minnesota Whitecaps are 3-0-0 in Lake Placid because of their star goaltender. Through three starts Leveille has posted a .946 Sv% in 183 total minutes of hockey. Per InStat’s data, she’s allowing 2.0 goals-per-game while her xGA is 3.7. That means, on average, she’s preventing more than 1.5 goals per game than expected based on the quantity and quality of shots she’s facing.
Three games is hardly a robust sample size but those numbers are really remarkable. The only goaltenders facing more shots on average than Lev in Lake Placid have been Buffalo’s Carly Jackson (41.77 SA60) and the Rivs’ Sonjia Shelly (38.5 SA60). In her three starts, she’s faced an average of 36.72 SA60. If that number doesn’t jump out at you, consider this: the Whitecaps have a -31 shot differential after three games. And Lev has stopped all but six of the 112 shots she’s seen.
Even in Leveille’s “worst” game in Lake Placid, you can make the case that she was Minnesota’s most valuable player. She allowed five goals in the first 38:28 against the Six on Jan. 24 and then she simply closed the door. The Canadian netminder stopped all nine shots she faced in the third, the four shots she faced in overtime, and denied four of Toronto’s five shooters in the shootout. She finished that game with 32 saves and, most importantly, the win. There’s no unforgettable four-goal comeback and shootout win without Leveille.
So, how exactly do you beat her?
One minute Leveille can look unflappable and patient, a spider waiting in its web, and the next she can spring into action and rely on her athleticism to make extraordinary stops. She’s a truly dynamic goaltender, which makes her wildly entertaining to watch.
The bottom line is that it’s very difficult to get pucks past Leveille when she can see them. She has an especially strong glove and sound positioning. The only shot that’s beaten her glove in Lake Placid was scored by Christina Putigna and that was the result of a pass that went across the royal road from Jenna Rheault. It’s also noteworthy that the only goals she’s allowed thus far have been taken from the slot. No shots from low-danger areas have beaten her in 183 minutes of hockey.
After three games it’s obvious that she’s been the Whitecaps' most valuable player. Aside from Minnesota’s unforgettable comeback game against the Toronto Six, the offense has been a little underwhelming. Thus far the Whitecaps have just three goals at even strength — that’s level with the Buffalo Beauts who have the fewest number of goals in Lake Placid.
Minnesota has relied on its power play — a robust 23.1 percent on 13 opportunities — and its workhorse star goaltender to guide them to a 3-0-0 record. Some credit also belongs to the defense. The Whitecaps’ blue line has kept chances to outside at even strength which has helped Leveille concede just a single goal at 5-on-5 in Lake Placid. It should also be noted that rookie defender Maddie Rowe has 14 blocked shots in three games. She’s played a far larger role than I expected her to.
Before hockey got underway in Lake Placid I wrote that the Whitecaps would go “exactly as far as Leveille can carry them”. Those words are truer now than when they were written.
Leveille is the reason that Minnesota has emerged as the team to beat in Lake Placid. After 63 career wins — 30 of which have been earned in a Whitecaps sweater — we’ve all come to expect brilliance from her. That speaks volumes about how long she’s been one of the best goalkeepers in the sport. It’s also why Minnesota has a real chance to defend its title and lift the Isobel Cup for the second time in three years.
Data courtesy of InStat and HerHockeyCounts.com.