Three ups, three down: Beauts split a crucial final weekend against Riveters
The Beauts desperately needed a couple of wins under their belt heading into the post-season, and they were able to get one at the very least, splitting the weekend series against the Riveters and building up the tiniest bit of confidence prior to Friday night’s playoff game in Buffalo against the Whale. Let’s look at what worked and what didn’t:
Up: New signings
Buffalo was rumored to be adding to their rosters before last weekend’s tilt, and add they did, snatching up forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Lea-Kristine Demers from Merrimack.
Right away, both of those signings proved to be difference makers for the struggling Beauts. Grant-Mentis scored two goals and three points on the top line alongside Corinne Buie and Taylor Accursi on the top line. Demers made an astounding 72 saves (36 apiece) over two games, many of them game-savers for the team in front of her. Those kinds of performance are crucial for this lineup, especially when it comes to a one-and-done game like the one the Beauts are heading into Friday (more on that in a moment).
NWHL Goal of the Week: Welcome to the show, Mikyla Grant-Mentis
Down: Relying too heavily on the goaltending
While Demers was fantastic for Buffalo when she needed to be, the skaters in front of her certainly didn’t do a lot to ease her into the fray. The netminder faced 41 and 37 shots respectively against the Riveters and was subject to many of the same odd-skater rushes and scrums in front of the net that her three peers have faced all season.
She’s proven she can handle the pressure; however, it’s at a point in the season where the defense in particular needs to shore up the gaps up the middle and really support their goalie if they want a chance to even get to play either of the top two teams, much less survive for longer than a period at a time against them.
Up: Corinne Buie
At this point, the Beauts captain and top-line forward does much more for her team than score; while this actually looks to be her strongest season production wise (thanks to her playmaking skills), she also manages to change the course of play for her team on both sides of the puck, particularly in the way she forechecks and creates chances by sheer force of will. It’s a huge cliche at this point, but the intangibles she brings as well are what make her wholly deserving of the C.
Buie’s sixth goal of the season came Sunday as she made a great drive up the right wing and drove the puck past the right pad of Sam Walther, giving the Beauts that much more wiggle room as they skated to their first win in five games. While the goals have come pretty well spaced apart for Buie, her team could use an offensive boost from one of its core forwards.
Down: Where-Is-The-Power play
That’s the Beauts’ power-play record through the past six games, including going 1-for-7 on Sunday against the Riveters when all they were doing was imploding.
While obviously getting goals at even strength is a good thing, so is maximizing your time up a skater, and Buffalo has shown a tendency to completely waste both time and ice. Anya Packer pointed it out on the call this weekend that there is a complete lack of presence up the middle, which is a sin when you have sizable forwards (Buie, Klimasova, Sheriff, etc.) who can get in front of a goalie and make it a lot harder for her to make those saves.
Also, there’s no productive movement, meaning the forwards and points don’t do enough to get the defense moving, though there are plenty of passes that go nowhere or get picked off for a shorthanded rush the other way. Pete Perram and the rest of the coaching staff really have to figure out a structure that plays to the strengths of the forwards he has on this team, because this ain’t it.
Up: Win heading into the playoffs
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Sunday’s win comes at a good time and is the best the Beauts have looked in a while. That means nothing but good things heading into this play-in game, and if they can tweak a couple of (big) things before Friday night, they’ll be in decent shape to continue their postseason push.
Down: Whale trending up, meanwhile… where are the Beauts in comparison?
One can make the argument that the Beauts perhaps got a bit complacent, with most of their wins prior to Nov. 30 coming against a Whale team that wasn’t all that competitive just yet. But Connecticut has made tremendous progress, as well as some quality signings, since their (very) modest beginnings.
While they’ve only got a couple of wins on the regular season and no big-name scorers, their defense is much stronger overall than Buffalo’s, and against a streaky Buffalo offense, that may just be the edge they need. Moreover, they’ve gotten their scoring up to par and played much more evenly against Minnesota and Boston of late, keeping the scores close and the blueline tight. Brooke Wolejko is also on her game, posting a .922 average save percentage in her past six starts.
The Beauts, meanwhile, have just two wins in the last 16 games played after their nearly month-long break. Admittedly, the losses have come against the top two seeds in the league, but they’re been unbelievably lopsided results (especially against Minnesota). Against more similarly skilled teams like the Riveters, they’ve fallen prey to penalties and failed to get quality shots through.
Overall, they’ve been just the slightest bit off all season, and while the rookies on the team can put them over the top, they can’t do it all. The Beauts need desperately to put their game above all else, focus on spreading out their offense and staying out of the box while using their size to its fullest advantage. It’s a tall order for a team this young, but it’s possible — and if there’s one thing Buffalo has proven it can do, it’s become a Cinderella team during the postseason.
Puck drop is 8:30 p.m. Friday at Northtown Center.