Boston has firmly cemented themselves as the team to beat. Buffalo’s top line showed up to play. The Connecticut Whale just simply cannot buy or steal a win, no matter how close they come.
With the season starting to heat up, let’s take a look at who’s hot and who’s not around the NWHL.
Trending up: Marie-Jo Pelletier, BUF | 2 goals, 3 assists in two games vs CTW
It’s becoming increasingly apparent just how top-heavy Buffalo is this season. There’s a definitive hierarchy of five or so players that will carry the offense and the rest of the roster along for the ride. Taylor Accursi and Corinne Buie stand out as seasoned vets, while Brooke Stacey has emerged as a bona fide scorer.
When those top five players perform up to their potential, the Beauts look like a completely different team. Case in point, Marie-Jo Pelletier.
Pelletier has emerged as one of the drivers of offense on the Buffalo blue line this season. She was an effective puck mover at University of New Hampshire, but truly found her element this past weekend against the Whale.
Buffalo overcame a 4-2 third period deficit Saturday afternoon, with the overtime winner coming off Pelletier’s stick in front on the powerplay. Note how deftly she drifts to the left circle. Two Whale penalty killers are drawn to the puck carrier at the point, giving Buffalo numbers down low. It’s a savvy play by Pelletier to read the kill and put herself in a prime position to score.
How do you follow up a game-winner in a dramatic comeback? By adding four points to your total the next day. Pelletier notched a goal and three assists in a 6-4 victory over the Whale on Sunday, staving off a vengeful third period attack from Connecticut.
After failing to reach the scoresheet and tallying just one shot on goal in two games against Boston, Pelletier had a five-point, five-shot weekend. That’s a response right there.
Trending down: Connecticut’s penalty kill | 6 PPGA in two games vs BUF
I mean, yikes. Six powerplay goals allowed in two games. That’s 60% of all goals with a goalie on the ice. Yikes.
So how does this happen? Let’s look at the tape.
We’ve already seen the overtime winner that came at 4-on-3. The kill got caught looking at the puck carrier and lost sight of the whole ice. So let’s look at a 5-on-4 kill from the same game. The puck is at the point and all four sets of eyes are on Iveta Klimasova the shooter. The shot hits Sonjia Shelly in the leg pad and she’s unable to corral the rebound.
Keep an eye on #8 Erin Hall in front of the net. Both she and #4 Taylor Marchin are caught turning in reaction to the play rather than anticipating the shot and covering the netmouth. Marchin at least takes a swipe at Becki Bowering’s stick, but Hall allows Corinne Buie to streak in across the crease, bat the puck loose and feed the goal scorer Taylor Accursi.
It’s too much watching and not enough thinking.
Here’s a penalty kill from Sunday’s game, resulting in an Accursi goal. This is chaos. It’s all too spacious. Grace Klienbach (#94) is haphazardly charging the puck-carrier leaving the bumper position open, and, for as rotten a position she’s put in defending a 2-on-1 right in front of the net, Elena Orlando simply needs to get a stick on the pass to the blue paint.
Everything after that is mayhem. This desperately needs a fix, and a big one. The Whale will have a chance to regroup this weekend as they host a doubleheader against Minnesota.
Trending up: Kaleigh Fratkin, BOS | Goal, assist in two games vs MIN
Kaleigh Fratkin is truly one of the biggest X-factors in the NWHL this season. Not every team has a defender as experienced, let alone as talented, as she is. In five games, she has already registered six points, tied for third most of any NWHL season in her career. That’s in just five games.
She’s coming for that rookie season total from her days with the Whale when she notched five goals and 12 assists.
Not only that, she’s generating shots at an absurd clip. Fratkin rifled 11 shots on goal over the weekend as part of a barrage that managed 42 and 47 shots on goal in back-to-back days.
Plus, Fratkin has been part of a defensive scheme that has largely suffocated opposing offenses. According to Mike Murphy, she’s been on the ice for 11 5-on-5 goals-for and just two against, the third best differential on the team.
Stick taps to @fratkin13 for becoming the first defender in @NWHL history to score 40 career points and the second Canadian skater to eclipse 40 points.— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) October 18, 2019
Fratkin is now just one point shy of leading the league in all-time PP points. #NWHL
This weekend, Boston will host the Metropolitan Riveters, who are coming off a bye week.
Trending down: Richelle Skarbowski, BUF | -2 vs CTW, -7 on the season
Regarding the aforementioned lack of depth for Buffalo, the Beauts are in dire need of consistency from the back end of their defense. Sara Bustad has been spotty in her coverages, Ashley Birdsall has been rather turnover prone, but none have had as rocky a start to their season as Richelle Skarbowski.
Skarbowski had another rough outing Sunday, on the ice for two goals against to bring her to a -7 on the year.
On this shift, Skarbowski attempts to carry the puck out of the defensive zone and is stripped from behind. She recovers, gliding to the front of the net, and springs out with a fly-by poke check behind the goal line. She’s promptly burned like a cheap candle and Kayla Meneghin is able to put the Whale back in the game after falling behind 2-0.
She has yet to muster a point or even a shot on goal. That is, in a word, rough.
Trending up: Lovisa Selander, BOS | 2 wins, 82 saves in two games vs MIN
We have ourselves a Goaltender of the Year front-runner. Lovisa Selander made headlines across the hockey world by shattering the Division I career saves record last year at RPI. She commanded respect with insane performances like her 58-save shutout against Robert Morris in a 1-0 game. She’s used to facing high volumes of shots.
Good thing, too. She stopped 47 shots against the reigning Isobel Cup Champs on Saturday then 35 more the next day. That’s a .965 save percentage on the weekend, for those keeping track.
There was absolutely unreal goaltending in the NWHL last weekend. Here is an 18-second clip that captures two back-to-back show-stopping saves from @MandyLeveille29 and @SelanderLovisa. Enjoy. pic.twitter.com/KpM5g5Gr47— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) October 22, 2019
What’s truly marvelous about Selander is just how poised she is. She rarely overcommits on a shot, traffic in front doesn’t seem to faze her, and her lateral movement is superb. Her time at RPI has already prepared her for marathon games in which she is the only force keeping her team in it. Now, she’s on the most dominant team in the league.
We all marveled at the ridiculous video-game numbers Shannon Szabados posted last season. Selander could easily best those at this rate.
And it’s going to be so much fun to watch as she does.