NWHL Mid-Season Report Card: Buffalo Beauts

Grading the first half of the Beauts season

Throughout the first half of the 2019-20 season, the Buffalo Beauts have been marred by one thing: inconsistency. There are flashes of the dominant team that has made it to four of four Isobel Cup Finals, but with massive turnover over the course of one offseason, there are plenty of players still getting used to the hustle and flow of women’s pro hockey.

As a result, the Beauts sit squarely in the middle of the pack with 13 points (6-7-1), just a point over the Metro Riveters. Here’s a breakdown, by position/area, of where the Beauts are at in my most humble opinion 14 games into the year.

Offense: C+

There are a handful of Beauts — five, to be exact — with double-digit points on the season thus far, but one player definitely is head and shoulders above the rest.

Taylor Accursi is the driving force behind this Buffalo offense, with 15 goals and five assists for well over a point-per-game average at this point. She and Corinne Buie (44 SOG) take the most shots on the team, and on the top line, she is clearly the finisher, with Buie and right winger Iveta Klimasova supporting her as playmakers. She’s also a great power play scorer, with five goals on the skater advantage, helping Buffalo to a second-best 23 percent overall in that regard. For all of her shots, Buie has just three goals on the season but stands out as a brilliant two-way player on the ice with excellent backchecking and puck control, while Klimasova’s size and shot provide plenty of chances for rebounds.

Outside of the top line, Brooke Stacey is another force to be reckoned with on offense, scoring twice in last Saturday’s outdoor game against the Riveters, but injuries have hampered her first half, taking her in and out of the lineup. Her line with Erin Gehen and Cassidy MacPherson is a lot of fun to watch, generating plenty of chances, but they need to find a way to finish. The offense in general has been stilted by a tendency to hold onto the puck too long and telegraph passes. Overall, it’s the Taylor Accursi show right now, but she can’t do it all herself. The Beauts need to find their consistency and create more shots, and maybe get a little uglier with their scoring.

Behind The Glass: Packer and Accursi trade unforgettable games

Defense: C-

I want to be positive about this blueline, because overall there is quite a bit more size than in recent seasons. However, the Beauts have to figure out this system, because too often they’re either leaving an opponent open back-door or hustling back to play catch-up after a pinch fails. Marie-Jo Pelletier has been a great playmaker, her puck movement and speed providing a nice complement to Lenka Curmova’s power, but outside of that, there’s been a lot of breakdowns and a lot of breakaways for opposing teams. When they’re good, they shut down the neutral zone well and allow their goaltenders to see shots perfectly, but when they’re off… well, we get what we saw last weekend against Metro.

Offensively, Pelletier leads the pack with 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) and Curmova is right behind her with 9 (3-6). Sara Bustad has been a great find, filling both defense and forward with ease and generating a good amount of offensive opportunities no matter her role. Megan Delay, while not tallying a whole lot of points, is the only plus-player on the defense, with a +4 in 10 games played while everyone else is around a -1 to -3 (Richelle Skarbowski is the big outlier with a -13). The Beauts penalty kill, which has gotten a lot of work so far, is second in the league at 84 percent, but the Beauts definitely need the number of penalties they take to drop in the second half.

Buffalo Believes Classic was an instant classic

Goaltending: B-

General manager and goalie coach Mandy Cronin has three solid netminders to work with in Kelsey Neumann, Mariah Fujimagari, and Tiffany Hsu. Fujimagari has started eight of the last 14 games, but Neumann has the better record overall in her five starts (3-1-1, .904 with 3.35 GAA).

The Beauts have found bright spots with all three of their goalies so far, as each has had at least one start and done well. Fujimagari’s puck tracking and positioning is superb, while Neumann is great at making saves off the rush and recovering for rebounds. Hsu, meanwhile, exhibited a great amount of confidence and coolness under pressure in her one start against the Boston Pride Dec. 22, proving that if the skaters in front of them can shape up, any one of them has a chance at securing at least one point.

Overall: C...ish

”Decidedly average” is the idea behind the grade, but for me, it’s more along the lines of “maddeningly inconsistent.” When they’re on, they’re on, but they need to be able to play a full, clean 60 minutes of hockey, which has been a struggle for them. They have all the pieces to make it work, but their defense and their penchant for penalties are the two things that most need to improve before the spring.

What’s worked in their favor in past seasons is their never-quit attitude and the parity of all of the teams in this league, meaning anyone can get to the top at any time. Maybe Year Five will be yet another charm for Buffalo, but before they can start thinking of another trophy, they need to find a way to even out the ice under their blades.