Whale Finish Regular Season With A Loss
Whale Now Face Riveters in Playoff First Round
The Connecticut Whale thought they had a two go lead Saturday night when a beautiful shot rippled off Sam Donovan’s stick into the back of the Buffalo net. A questionable goalie interference call erased that tally and the Whale would soon find themselves down to 3-1 to Beauts eventually to fall 4-1 on the last weekend of the NWHL regular season. A relatively disastrous sequence in the second period gave Buffalo an advantage that Connecticut could not recover from despite outshooting their opponents and generating opportunities.
“You earn your bounces,” Whale Head Coach Ryan Equale said. I think we’re working hard enough to get some bounces, and I think we’re getting more than we have been getting. But the effort level has to be sustained. We had a little bit of lack of focus, 7-8 minute stretch, and we give up three goals on nine shots in the first half of the second period. You just can’t win hockey games that way. Overall the team is progressing and evolving, but we just have no margin of error.”
The Whale’s losses, on one hand, make perfect sense in that they are not scoring, and their opponents are. On the other hand, what doesn’t seem to line up is the lack of goals despite all the effort being put in to try to get the puck past the line. Saturday night the Whale put up 33 shots to the Beauts 22.
“We’ve outshot our opponents I think five consecutive games in a row,” Equale said. “The team’s working hard, we’re moving the puck well. We’re doing all the things we want to do to mitigate odd man rushes, and scoring chances and shots. But it’s a game of production…last two games we’ve given up seven goals on thirty-five shots. We’re giving up a goal every five shots on net, and we’re scoring a goal every thirty. The math isn’t in our favor when it happens…”
The Whale’s power play continues to not produce at the level it needs to. The Whale’s only power play sequence of the game, which included a 5 on 3 section, produced no goals. At even strength, shot selection is also an issue.
“It’s really the mindset of, am I shooting to shoot, or am I shooting to score?” Equale said. “I’ve yet to see a goal go through the pads of a goalie, or through her chest. It’s not about how hard you shoot, it’s where you’re shooting and when?”
In the past Equale has noted there were patience issues in when to take the shot. The Whale have at times seemed to send shots right into blockers that were already in position, or right into the goaltender as the Coach noted. Despite all the hustle to set up opportunities, finishing them out continues to be an issue for a team clearly more talented than the record indicates.
The Whale’s lone goal of the night came off Amanda Boulier’s stick when she launched the puck from deep through the screen to Amanda Leveille’s right in the first. Emma Greco and Donovan picked up Assists on the play, as Donovan earned her first NWHL point in her second game of the year.
In the second period, a delay of game penalty put the Beauts with a skater advantage and Sarah Edney smacked a shot from the point past Sydney Rossman to tie the score up. Jess Jones and Kaylyn Schroka helped set up the goal.
Just over a minute later, Jordan Juron scored her first NWHL goal of the season in her second game and her first game as a full contract player for the Beauts as she hit the puck in from Rossman’s left after a rebound. Jacquie Greco and Taylor Accursi had the assists on the momentous eventual game-winner.
Later in the third, Hayley Scamurra broke down the ice, outmaneuvered the defense and shot it into the net assisted by Maddie Elia to put Buffalo in good position. Also, Edney would add an empty netter late in the third to remove all hope of a Whale comeback.
The Whale took four penalties on the night, giving up the one goal on the kill. A third period penalty on Babstock could have been more harmful. However, Buffalo’s Kourtney Kunichika been called for a penalty soon afterward to even the sides at four apiece.
“I think we’ve been working on that,” Boulier said. “We’ve been better certainly but again going into playoffs we want to make sure we minimize that even more so. The Riveters have a great power play, our penalty kill has gotten better to some extent, but we want to try to stay out of the box as much as we can. So we gotta keep moving our feet, working together. The offensive zone time will certainly help that. Not getting stuck in our d-zone as much.”
As is true of all the teams in the NWHL, the lineup from week to week changes depending on available personnel. Saturday night, Sam Faber was not in the lineup, but Grace Klienbach was. The Whale are also without the services of Meghan Huertas the rest of the season due to injury. The team’s lone signing right before the March 6th deadline was Sam Donovan out of Brown and her impact has been established early. The team has had to adapt to the changes which result in different lines and pairings.
“I think that’s certainly the nature of professional hockey,” Boulier said. You’re going to have people that have signed later than others. We had Sam Donovan signed last week. Which was a great addition to our team. She adds a ton of energy…that’s just the nature of it. I think our team has been very adaptable, and pretty flexible. I think the coaches have been great at having different people in the lineup, but also we’ve been pretty supportive of each other.”
The Beauts picked up their tenth straight win to finish the season 12-4-0 as the Whale finish with a record of 3-11-2. Now every game for the Whale is an elimination game as the playoffs begin. Next Sunday CT will travel down to Newark next Sunday to take on the Riveters. The Riveters despite their number one seed, are the likely better matchup for the Whale. The season showed some fairly even contests including the overtime thriller played in Stamford. Connecticut has had a season to grow, and now there won’t be any net as they try to move forward.
Head Coach Ryan Equale