We’ve reached the final weekend of the regular season, with seedings in place and nothing left to do but tighten up the screws before playoff season. The Whale pay one last visit to Minnesota, while the Riveters host the Buffalo Beauts.
As we approach the finish line, let’s take a look at who’s hot, who’s not and who to keep an eye on this weekend.
Trending up: Lovisa Selander, BOS | Two shutouts vs CTW, MET
Two shutouts in two starts? Yeah, that probably lands you a spot on the “trending up” list. Selander is the frontrunner for Goaltender of the Year this season, and for good reason— she leads the league in virtually every category there is to lead for a netminder. She has 17 wins to her name, a 1.71 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
The only goaltender even remotely in the same neighborhood as Selander stats-wise is Amanda Leveille, who herself has had a phenomenal season.
The only possible strike against Selander’s dominance is the quality of play in front of her, in that it might be too good. After all, her backup Victoria Hanson was a perfect 6-0 this season with a 1.97 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. Boston’s defense makes the job fairly easy, limiting both quantity and quality of chances against.
Nevertheless, the Pride are 23-1-0 for a reason, and a big part of their success is Lovisa Selander. Selander has only allowed three goals in her last four starts. She’s been a monster all season, and she couldn’t be any hotter heading into the postseason. Which is scary.
Trending down: Buffalo Beauts’ puck luck | 15 goals allowed in two games vs MIN
We’ve reached the point where any time the puck enters the general vicinity of the Beauts’ crease, you have to hold your breath.
Again with the science lessons here...— Minnesota Whitecaps (@WhitecapsHockey) February 23, 2020
You throw the puck on net and good things happen 🤷♀️ pic.twitter.com/RVrnWG4hzm
There have been wonky bounces off defenders...
And the Meaghan Pezon scoring surge continues.. pic.twitter.com/bjMdo5Khac— Minnesota Whitecaps (@WhitecapsHockey) February 22, 2020
...there’s been stringent defensive zone coverage...
...and whatever this is.
Sometimes it’s just not your day. Having lost 10 of their last 11, it’s safe to say that in the words of the Rembrandts, it hasn’t been the Beauts’ day, their week, their month, or even their year.
More on that in a bit.
Trending up: Brooke Wolejko, CTW | Save of the Year vs BOS
Brooke Wolejko stopped 46 of 48 shots against the Boston Pride, doing everything in her power to keep the Whale in a game they had no business being in. Of those 46 saves, one in particular stood out amongst the rest to pop some eyes and drop some jaws.
WATCH: @wolj_e with the UNREAL TOE SAVE to keep this a one-goal game for the @CTWhale_NWHL The only thing my toes do is find a way to get stubbed on anything and everything.— NWHL (@NWHL) February 22, 2020
Join us now on @Twitch for this big rivalry game! #WOAHLEJKO #NWHLonTwitch
📺: https://t.co/EHkD9gflXv pic.twitter.com/mayDqCKusY
Look at where the puck is on her pad! Christina Putigna is inches away from burying it, and only by kicking out her leg at full extension is Wolejko able to keep it out.
Wolejko is really one of the only goaltenders to keep the Pride at bay. In four starts against Boston, she allowed 13 goals- a 3.25 goals-against average against a team averaging five goals-for per game. If we exclude the one 7-2 loss against Boston on December 29th, she allowed just six goals in her other three starts.
Her save percentage against Boston this season in four starts was .938. She faced an average of 52 shots per game.
If Connecticut advances anywhere in the playoffs, it will be because Wolejko willed them to success.
Trending down: Tiffany Hsu, BUF | .833 save percentage vs MIN
Oh dear. It’s time to take a look at the opposite end of the goalie spectrum in Tiffany Hsu.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear first: the Buffalo defense is dreadful. There’s no two ways around it, they simply aren’t good enough and they were outclassed by a much faster, much more skilled Minnesota team. There were far too many odd-skater rushes and breakaways that the Beauts only sought to defend by hooking the oncoming attacker as they breezed by.
The forecast this afternoon in Buffalo included:— Minnesota Whitecaps (@WhitecapsHockey) February 23, 2020
• Sunny & Breezy (thx @accuweather)
• Raining Teddy Bears (cc: @BuffaloBeauts)
• Whitecaps goals (a lot of them)
Watch every single Whitecaps goal from today's 6-1 win here ⤵️#RollCaps🌊 pic.twitter.com/OXPt9spl1l
Hsu was asked to make a lot of saves on skaters from either point-blank range or with zero defensive help. Even with the incredibly high-danger scoring chances being faced, one can’t help but feel there are a few that slipped under her leg pad or through the five-hole that she’d like back.
Overcommitment is a big problem for Hsu. Take this give-and-go play, capped off by Allie Thunstrom (#9) in the slot. Put aside the fact that with two defensive sticks (three, if you count Hsu’s) there’s no justification for this pass from behind the endline connecting. Marie-Jo Pelletier throws a very weak stick check and Sara Bustad is left in limbo marking both potential pass recipients in front as a result. It’s a terrible breakdown on a 3-on-2.
It can still be salvaged if Hsu anticipates the pass a bit better. Thunstrom has the entire net to shoot at. Hsu fails to recognize her angle relative to the post and is moving one way while the puck travels another. Geometry becomes all the more important the smaller a goalie is in net, and at 5’5”, Hsu has to be more in control of her motion to keep herself square to potential shooters.
Hsu has just an .861 save percentage and 5.01 goals-against average over five appearances this season. With a one-game playoff against the Wolejko-led Whale looming in the distance, it’s hard not to give the defensive advantage outright to Connecticut.
Goaltending hasn’t exactly been a strength of Buffalo’s all season long, but then again, what was that song we quoted just a moment ago?
Trending up: Kate Leary, MET | Five goals last five games
Though she didn’t record a point last weekend in a 5-0 loss to the Boston Pride, Kate Leary has been one of the best newcomers in the league this season. Leary and the Riveters will be closing their season against the Beauts, who Leary potted three goals against the weekend of February 15th.
WATCH: @2K8leary with a rocket of a wrister to beat Tiffany Hsu and give the @Riveters their first lead of the game over the @BuffaloBeauts. #NWHLonTwitch— NWHL (@NWHL) February 16, 2020
📺: https://t.co/EHkD9gflXv pic.twitter.com/kChl8dbfDB
Leary also made her mark on the All-Star Game up in Boston, scoring the game’s first goal assisted by fellow Riv and All-Star Captain Madison Packer.
Metro desperately needed some depth scoring to complement Packer, and Leary has delivered in a big way. Tied for fifth in the league in goals, Leary has two more games as she looks to pass NWHL legends like Taylor Accursi and Jillian Dempsey on the league leaderboard.
She’ll be a fascinating watch in the postseason.