Last season, the Metropolitan Riveters got one goal out of their group of defenders. Last weekend, the Rivs saw new addition Minttu Tuominen rip three pucks into the net against the Minnesota Whitecaps. All three of those goals came on the power play, which is why the Rivs now lead the league in goals on the advantage (6). That is just one example of how the addition of Tuominen has made an immediate impact for the Rivs.
From the moment that the Riveters announced the signing of Tuominen, the bar was raised on what we were expecting out of a completely transformed blue line. Remember, the Rivs brought back just three skaters from last season’s squad and all three were forwards. Head coach Venla Hovi’s team needed a keystone blueliner to build around and Tuominen, an Olympian with a long history on the Finnish national team, fit that bill.
The Rivs are having a ton of success with screens and tips from Minttu Tuominen's heavy, accurate point shots. It's created a ton of problems for Minnesota. Minttu has three primary points on the PP in this weekend's series.— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) December 4, 2022
A1 is Kilponen, A2 is Packer. pic.twitter.com/4OuIRSnMRD
For the purpose of this story, we’re focusing on what Tuominen has brought to the Rivs’ power play where she has emerged as a key cog on the top unit.
The Rivs have had a lot of luck with the 1-3-1 on the top unit with forwards Madison Packer, Amanda Pelkey, and Kendall Cornine and defenders Anna Kilponen and Tuominen. Pelkey is a master in puck retrieval and winning pucks, Cornine is a natural finisher who knows how to tip pucks and take away a goalie’s eyes, and Packer is capable of doing a lot of things at a high level which is why she tends to move around a lot on the PP. You’ll see her getting a lot of touches.
With Tuominen and Kilponen on the point, the Rivs have two savvy puck-movers who have found immediate chemistry as a pairing. Last season, it was Kristen Barbara pulling the strings which is evidenced by the 8 assists she had on the PP in 2021-22. Tuominen also has a great shot, which means teams have to respect that she isn’t just looking to set up Packer or Cornine. It’s an element that was missing from last season’s roster.
Take a look at the below to get an idea of how the Rivs want to set up on the advantage. Note that Tuominen is highlighted in green. The 1-3-1 creates both traffic in front of the net and the slot — where Cornine and Pelkey can screen and go for tips from the bumper position and on the doorstep — and allows patient passers like Packer, Tuominen, and Kilponen with options on the perimeter to move the puck and pull penalty killers out of position.
Of course, this isn’t the only look we ever see from the Rivs’ power play, but we saw plenty of it last weekend against the Whitecaps.
Here’s Tuominen’s first goal from Saturday, Dec. 3. You can clearly see the Rivs in the 1-3-1 with Packer and Cornine switching spots — Cornine gets the secondary assist for feeding the puck to Kilponen and Packer helps make this goal happen by driving to the net and creating chaos. She’s awfully good at that with and without the puck. Tuominen sees that she has daylight to work with after getting the feed from her d-partner and she claims that real estate before snapping her shot with three bodies between her and Amanda Leveille’s eyes.
Now, here’s the Finnish veteran’s second goal from Saturday’s game.
Just before this GIF begins, Tuominen actually slaps her stick on the ice to call for the puck. Perhaps she recognized how passive the Whitecaps’ PK was and how much space she had to work with. Again, she steps into the space she has as a result of the Rivs’ puck movement, uses a screen, and wires the puck high past Leveille. This isn’t a bomb of a slapshot — it’s a quick, accurate wrister that goes just where it needs to go. Tuominen isn’t shooting for a rebound here like we see some defenders do on the advantage. She’s shooting to score through the copse of bodies in front of the net.
Now, here’s Sunday’s goal. Take note of the traffic in front of the net and watch how Tuominen attacks the space that the PKers give her as a result of puck movement to shoot from the high slot — a higher-danger shooting area than the blue line itself. The Rivs are not settling for poor angles or low-percentage chances. They are moving the puck until they have a shooting lane they like and Tuominen delivers again.
The early success of the Rivs’ power play (19.4%) is noteworthy because a good power play requires so much more than just having a hot shooter. It requires good coaching, teamwork, planning, and confidence. Right now, it’s Tuominen scoring for the top unit but with how this group is moving the puck goals are going to come for the others — Sarah Bujold has 2 goals on the power play primarily playing with the “second” unit.
Right now, the Riveters are a team to be feared on the power play. That is a big deal for a team that plays with an edge like they do. Do you really want to take a retaliation penalty because Kelly Babstock got away with a hit or because Packer took an extra whack at the puck? This is now a team you don’t want to give too many chances on the PP. That’s a big deal and Tuominen is clearly a big part of that.
Tuominen’s league-leading 3 power-play goals are just one example of her impact. She’s been clocking major minutes in all situations paired primarily with Kilponen and has a primary assist on one of Bujold’s goals. Before this weekend’s action, her 18 SOG are second among PHF defenders behind only Sidney Morin. Through 7 GP, she’s lived up to her Olympic resume and has been a major ingredient in these new look Riveters.
We’re still waiting to see what this Riveters team is truly capable of — the recent addition of star goaltender Katie Burt has once again raised the bar. With a record of 2-5-0, it’s obvious that the best is yet to come. Right now, it seems like the only thing standing between the Rivs and a winning record is more consistent play and discipline. But Rivs fans should be encouraged by this new-look defense and the star it is built around.