In a normal season, six games wouldn’t necessarily make or break a team; however, this season has been nowhere close to normal for the Buffalo Beauts or the NWHL. In the end, they completed six games to land at a fairly distant sixth place, struggling offensively and putting much of the burden on their young phenom goaltender.
It gets tiring to hear that Taylor Accursi is the entirety of the offense, but unfortunately it looks more and more like the truth. The offense managed just 1.2 goals per game in Lake Placid, good for last in the league, and was outscored by at least four goals in three games.
After a quiet couple of games and a shift to the top line, Autumn MacDougall broke out with three goals in back-to-back matches, utilizing her speed well and clicking with linemate Kristin Lewicki. Outside of them, though, there really wasn’t a lot of firepower — and that’s been an issue for the past couple of seasons. Possession time was minimal, with less than 20 minutes of time per game at even strength, and the shots on goal per game were last in the league at 22.7, according to InStat.
The defense did do its best to contribute offensively, with its top four (and particularly the Whitney Dove–Dominique Kremer pairing) driving possession and puck movement. Points-wise, the top pairing of Marie-Jo Pelletier and Alyson Matteau combined for five points (all assists).
Moreover, the power play, a longstanding weak spot, didn’t fare much better, with just a 10 percent success rate and two goals forced on the skater advantage. Lewicki and Lisa Chesson were the big contributors on the skater advantage, but with Chesson joining the team halfway through the season, that doesn’t speak extremely well to its efficacy. There were glimmers of hope in their transition game, which put the unit’s speed and grit to work, but those glimmers were not consistent enough.
On its face, it doesn’t seem as though the blue line deserves that much praise. But honestly, given the amount of time logged and the amount of work needed, this young defense did the best it could to protect goaltender Carly Jackson as much as possible over the six games played. Once Chesson joined the lineup, that strength only grew over their final couple of games.
The top-four pairings — Pelletier–Matteau and Dove–Kremer — were workhorses over the course of the season, with Dove–Kremer carrying around an average of 18 minutes per game. Dove also led the charge in terms of winning puck battles in her own zone, with nearly a 60 percent success rate. Only Lenka Čurmová (71 percent) had a better win percentage, with fewer minutes logged, and in general the defense was very good at picking up the puck in front of Jackson. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a whole lot of support from the forward lines — or at least, not as much as they should have had. Any breakout attempts were stymied by an errant pass or a turnover, forcing those on the back end to work twice as hard.
Blocked shots were also a high point, with MJP and Matteau combining for 37 blocks (an average of just over 6 per game), and Dove and Kremer contributing an additional 26 (about 4.3 per game).
I mean, you can really only utter two words here: Carly Jackson. The rookie out of UMaine was given the reins in net by head coach Pete Perram and ran with the opportunity, starting every game and keeping the Beauts in many of them. It could certainly be argued that she should have been given a bit of rest toward the end, especially once it became clear that Buffalo’s position in the standings wasn’t really about to change.
Still, it’s an admirable first-year campaign for Jackson, posting a .909 save percentage and facing more shots against than any other NWHL netminder in Lake Placid (231). She especially shined on the penalty kill and in point-blank situations against some of the best shooters in the league, including Jillian Dempsey, McKenna Brand, and Brooke Boquist. It’s one of the brightest, most consistent spots in this Beauts lineup, and after seeing what she can do under that kind of pressure, I am really looking forward to seeing what Jackson can do in a full 24-game season. Caty Flagg saw only a period of ice time in net but was also very solid, proving she can handle coming in cold as a backup.
MVP: Carly Jackson
It’s a no-brainer — “CJ” is hopefully the goaltender of the future for Buffalo, and without her the team would look quite different. I would expect her to get some recognition from the league as well for her top-notch play in Year Six.
The Beauts are solid on the back end, but they need some more help up front to really make a difference. Just like they can’t rely on one forward, they can’t rely on their goaltending to keep them in games. The focus is clearly on building up from the back, so I’m hoping general manager Nate Oliver can put some more pieces in place up front in terms of possession, forechecking, and finish.