|Les Canadiennes de Montreal
|Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays
The Inferno managed to end the first half of the CWHL season on a positive note with a convincing 6-0 win over the Furies after Toronto snapped their three-game winning streak. The Inferno don’t take a lot of penalties compared to the rest of the league because they spend so much time possessing the puck. And when you have the puck most of the time, you’re going to win a lot of games.
Calgary has lost just two games in regulation this season — once to Montréal and once to Toronto. The Inferno have found a way to move forward without former head coach Shannon Miller and have emerged as early favorites for the Clarkson Cup because of the depth and potency of their roster. There aren’t many teams that have the luxury of playing Brianne Jenner and Rebecca Johnston on separate lines.
Les Canadiennes de Montréal
According to Jeff Craig’s CWHL Tracker, Montréal has the highest PDO (all strengths) in the entire league — but a lot of that likely has to do with the unbelievable season that Emerance Maschmeyer is having. Maschmeyer has a league-leading .938 save percentage and already has three shutouts this season. She’s yet to play a game this season where she posted a save percentage lower than .871.
Les Canadiennes are currently riding a five-game winning streak. Ann-Sophie Bettez and Marie-Philip Poulin have been so brilliant that Montréal’s offense hasn’t missed a beat since Mélodie Daoust’s injury. To date, no CWHL team has scored more goals or allowed as few goals as Les Canadiennes.
After a rocky start the reigning Clarkson Cup Champions are 6-3-1-0 in their last 10 games and have a firm grip on third place in the standings, behind Les Canadiennes and the Inferno. Markham’s offense has been led by rookie forward Victoria Bach who has 11 goals in her first 17 CWHL games.
In many ways, the Thunder are still a mystery and there’s a reasonable chance that they could be a paper tiger — four of their six wins at home thus far have come at the expense of the Blades. We’re going to learn a lot about the Thunder in their next four games at home against Calgary and Montréal.
Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays
Before the season began it was difficult to predict what the Rays were going to look like. Now that Shenzhen has played 16 games, it seems like we’re no closer to figuring out what this team is capable of.
With that being said, it’s clear that the Rays are not the Kunlun Red Star team that battled its way into the 2018 Clarkson Cup Final. Shenzhen’s one-dimensional offense has given them a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games. Legendary goaltender Noora Räty has a .908 save percentage — which is a far cry from the .944 save percentage she had last year. It’s also worth noting that Shenzhen’s offense is being carried by it’s international players with the exception of Rachel Llanes who earned a place in this year’s All-Star Game with 12 points in 13 games.
Toronto is just two wins and six points behind the record that they had in 2017-18, so things are definitely moving in the right direction.
As expected, Sarah Nurse has been a godsend for the Furies. Her ability to create chances has taken a lot of pressure off of Natalie Spooner to lead Toronto’s offense. Unfortunately, a few key Furies — like Shiann Darkangelo and Renata Fast — have had relatively quiet seasons thus far in regards to production. If the Furies want to make some noise in the second half of the season, they are going to need to give Shea Tiley and Elaine Chuli more goal support. It would also help if they took a lot less penalties, especially in games against Les Canadiennes and the Inferno.
At the CWHL’s holiday break the Blades are, unfortunately, exactly where we thought they’d be. The CWHL’s only U.S. franchise is still searching for its first win of the 2018-19 season. As of Jan. 6, it will be one year since the Blades last won a hockey game.
Things haven’t changed a lot under new head coach Paul Kennedy, even though he continues to shuffle his goalies around like someone playing three-card Monte. Worcester has just 10 goals in their first 17 games of the season. Yikes.
The CWHL All-Star game is on Jan. 20 in Toronto. In early December, the league announced the 34 players that will be participating. The captains for each team — decided by a fan vote — will be announced this weekend during the Sportsnet broadcasts.