NWHL

3 Improvements to Ensure Buffalo Beauts Success

Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

The Buffalo Beauts’ inaugural season could have been drastically different had it started on January 1. Since the turn of the new year, the team has gone 2-1-2. While that isn’t a fantastic record, it is a marked improvement from their 2-6-1 showing in 2015.

With points in four out their last five games, the team is heading into the final stretch of the season with distinguishable momentum. Buffalo plays one road game in New York before hosting Boston and New York to close out the season.

The Beauts have beaten both of those teams and has owned New York through the season so far, with their only misstep against the Riveters coming in a 7-3 loss on December 27. With the playoff schedule released recently, Buffalo will be away for all three games in the first round, so momentum will be key heading into the Isabel Cup tournament. What does the team need to do to continue their 2016 success?

Get Better on the Power Play: The Beauts have the most power play opportunities in the league, with 87, which is 13 more chances than New York (the next closest team) and 29 more than Boston, who has the fewest power play opportunities in the league.

On average, the Beauts have the man advantage nearly six times per game. The most damning statistic for the Beauts is their power play percentage of .172. The Beauts convert on fewer than one in five chances, and that is unacceptable.

Kelley Steadman takes a shot on net at NWHL Buffalo Beauts at Connecticut Whale. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Even in 2016, where they’ve had more success in games, the team scored only six goals in 38 opportunities. This includes their only 2016 regulation loss to Connecticut, in which the team went 0-10 on the power play. If the Beauts are going to win out and have any success in the playoffs, they are going to need to improve their power play.

They have two strategies which have worked well for them – get Megan Bozek the puck at the point or get Kelley Steadman the puck down low. Without these two decisive players, the team frequently double-clutches on shots, hesitates, and makes one-too-many passes. If the power play unit can be more decisive, and get some traffic in front of the net, they can greatly improve on this one major weakness.

Stay Out of the Box: This advice might seem unnecessary – the Beauts are the least-penalized team in the league. The fact is, though, that the team has the worst penalty kill in the league, at .754, and has allowed a league-high 15 goals. Buffalo deploys a strategy which often has them playing on the edge of an infraction – their physical game can often be taken a step too far. With a one-in-four chance that the other team will score, the safest bet for Buffalo is no bet at all. The team needs to tighten up their game, keep their heads about them, and stay out of the box.

Be Complete: It is incredibly important that the Beauts are a whole team, especially against Boston. Cornerstone players like Meghan Duggan and Steadman are often unable to attend games because of their commitments to the college teams they coach, but in this final push for the playoffs, it has never been more important for these players to be at the games.

Steadman is the team’s leading goal-scorer and their best special teams player, with five power play goals, along with two shorthanded goals. The team’s success is very closely tied to Steadman’s ability to make it into the lineup.

Because of the roster’s design, the team also underperforms when they are missing a player from the defensive unit. With only five defenders on the Beauts’ roster, the team depends on every player to be at every game. On several occasions, Buffalo has had to pull a forward back to play defense.

Such was the case in the devastating 7-3 loss to the Riveters, and even as recently as last week, as detailed by Tatiana Rafter.

“I am starting off the game playing forward but (head coach) Ric Seiling told me today that there is a chance I am going back and forth between the point and wing.”

Rafter is a great utility player, who played defense as a youth, but clearly the team is stronger when their entire defensive unit is on the ice.

In the team’s most recent win against New York – their first home win of the season — fans saw what the team can do when they are complete. Steadman had two power play goals and the team played well defensively, but this is another example of the team being incomplete in a different way.

They got a lead and they let up in the second period. After the game, coach Shelley Looney said, “We got a little flat in the middle…we came out flying, but laid back in the second.”

Incomplete games are an unfortunate hallmark for this Buffalo team. If they’re going to succeed in the playoffs, they are going to need 60-plus minutes of effort from every player. These last three games will be very important for the standings as teams jockey for position. No one can afford to take a shift off.

If the Beauts can kick their power play into gear, stay out of the box, and send a complete team to the ice for a full 60 minutes, they will be a force to be reckoned with heading into the NWHL’s first-ever playoff series.

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